AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
ROME: Defending champion Novak Djokovic swept past Roger Federer on Saturday to set up a Rome Masters final rematch with five-time winner Rafael Nadal.
Top seed Djokovic ended Federer’s brilliant run of recent clay form, defeating the World No 2, and last week’s Madrid champion, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) while Nadal reached a seventh Rome final with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-0 win over compatriot David Ferrer.
Federer saved a match point for 5-5 in the second set as he broke Djokovic on a stinging forehand winner. But he could not extend that battling instinct into the tiebreaker, with Djokovic taking victory on his second winning chance as the Swiss put a backhand long after an hour and 39 minutes on court.
“This was my best match on clay so far,” said Djokovic. “I was focused from the beginning and very determined and concentrated. I was hitting the ball well and returning extremely well. I was making him play the extra shot and make errors. I’m very pleased to be back in the final.”
After defeating Ferrer for the 12th consecutive time on clay, Nadal will face Djokovic for the 32nd time, with the Spaniard going into the contest holding a 17-14 lead. Nadal won their last meeting in April for the Monte Carlo title, snapping a run of seven consecutive losses to his rival in finals dating back to March 2011.
“I’ve raised the level of our rivalry,” said Djokovic. “Playing Rafa in the final again is encouraging. It is what I want before Roland Garros.” Djokovic controlled Federer in their first meeting since the US Open semi-final last autumn when Federer held two match points but lost. Since that disappointment he has won seven ATP titles.
“Overall, I wasn’t playing quite good enough,” said Federer, who admitted that he was relieved the tournament was over. “I’ve played a lot of tennis in the last few weeks. Novak was looking fresh, he was better tonight.” Djokovic, appearing in his fifth straight semi-final in Rome, improved to 22-3 at the venue, one of the few where Federer does not own a trophy after losing the 2003 and 2006 finals. Federer had won 14 of 24 matches in their series coming in, including three of four on clay.
Nadal, winner of the Foro Italico trophy in five of seven appearances, also won a 39th straight claycourt semi-final and has not lost at the final-four stage on the surface since 2003. Ferrer, a legendary scrambler on the dirt, was beaten by his countryman in Rome for the third time as Nadal polished his career record here to 35-2. He now stands 15-4 in the pair’s series.
Spain’s 10-time Grand Slam champion will be competing in his 70th career ATP final, defending a record of 48-21. He and Federer share the record for Masters titles won at 20 each. Nadal has 15 wins on clay this season against one defeat, which came in Madrid against Fernando Verdasco last week.