Rafael Nadal defeats Novak Djokovic to reach Rome Masters final
Spaniard will aim to claim his eighth title in Italian capital when he takes on defending champion Alexander Zverev in the final
By Raz Mirza at Foro Italico in Rome
Last Updated: 20/05/18 7:33am
Rafael Nadal won a royal battle against old foe Novak Djokovic to reach his 10th Rome Masters final and stay on course to reclaim the world No 1 spot.
Nadal, who is now 10-0 in semi-finals at the Foro Italico, earned a hard-fought 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win as he continued his bid to lift an eighth career title at the Foro Italico.
Djokovic, one of only two men ever to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, traded with his rival from the baseline and at times outplayed him, even if it was not quite enough in the end to topple him.
Second-ranked Nadal must now win the final on Sunday to return to the top of the rankings after losing that position to Roger Federer last week.
"To play against Novak is always a challenge and I hit a couple of bad shots when serving for the set, but he played a good game. It's always the same against him, when your level goes down he's always there and you're in big trouble," he told Sky Sports.
"To play against him, you always have to play at the limit of your game with high intensity. That was the tactic we wanted to play.
"I needed to play aggressive with my forehand and when I didn't I saw that I suffered more. But when I played aggressive, I changed direction and changed the rhythm of the point with high balls and then low balls, combined with going for shots down the line. That's the moment I felt a little bit more in control."
Nadal beat Djokovic in their last meeting in May in 2017 in a Madrid semi-final and the Serb was out for revenge after winning seven in a row prior to that.
Djokovic, seeded 11th after his elbow injury problems, put everything into a titanic opening set lasting 71 minutes, but it was the Spaniard who broke loose to edge out Djokovic in their 51st career meeting, but only second in two years, in a rivalry stretching back to 2006.
The second set followed a similar pattern, although this time Djokovic was unable to reclaim the early break, and Nadal celebrated exuberantly after clinching victory with an hour and 56 minutes on the clock.
The Spaniard moves through to a final against defending champion Alexander Zverev, who came through another lung-busting match to defeat Marin Cilic 7-6 (15-13) 7-5.
Zverev destroyed his racket near the end of an epic first-set tie-break in which he saved five set points before recovering from an early break in the second set to win.
The German player is aiming for his third title in three weeks after lifting trophies in Munich and Madrid, but he hasn't beaten Nadal in four attempts.
"On this surface (Nadal) is almost unbeatable," Zverev said. "I'll have to play my best."
The 1000 Series continues with our coverage of the ATP Rome Masters men's final, live on Sky Sports Action from 1pm on Sunday.
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