ROME: World number one Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in straight sets on Saturday and will play Rafa Nadal in the Rome Masters final for the second year in a row.
Defending champion Djokovic ended Federer’s hopes of back-to-back claycourt titles with a gutsy 6-2, 7-6 victory over the Swiss.
Five-time Rome champion Nadal wore down fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6, 6-0 to reach his 70th career final.
In their first meeting since last year’s US Open semifinal, which Djokovic won, the Serb broke twice to win the first set.
Dominating the baseline rallies, top seed Djokovic constantly forced Federer on to the back foot and an errant forehand handed him the break for 4-3 in the second.
Suddenly Federer became more aggressive and began to vary his game and when he saved a match point at 5-4 before breaking back, he was back in the match.
But Djokovic regained his poise just in time to clinch the tiebreak 7-4 when Federer sent a backhand long.
In the first semifinal, Nadal made it 12 wins in a row on clay against Ferrer in a match in which a gruelling first set lasted 86 minutes.
Sixth seed Ferrer had the better of it early on and led 3-1 but Nadal fought straight back and after taking the tiebreak 8-6, he ran away with the second.
“At the start of the match, David was playing unbelievably,” Nadal said. “My thought was that the best news for me would probably to be level at 3-3.
“After the first six, seven games then it was more equal because before that he was playing better than me.”
Nadal said he had not played as well as he did in beating Czech Tomas Berdych in the previous round, but used his mental strength to get through.
“I was very happy with how I was mentally, because I stayed focused all the time,” he said.
Nadal, who will go back above Federer to the No. 2 spot if he wins, said he would need to be at his very best if he is to take the title.
“If I play my best clay-court tennis then hopefully I will have my chances,” he said.
“It will be an important match to close the clay-court season before Roland Garros with perfect feelings.”
Earlier, Nadal, winner of the Foro Italico trophy in five of seven appearances in the Italian capital, also won a 39th straight clay court 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.
Meanwhile, the seventh seed Indian pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna crashed out of the ATP Rome Masters after suffering a straight-sets defeat at the hands of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez.
The Spaniards raced to a 6-4, 6-1 win in one hour and five minutes in the semifinals of the euro 2,427,975 clay court event. Bhupathi and Bopanna had their chances in the second set, getting two breakpoints but they squandered both. They dropped their serve thrice in the same set. Granollers and Lopez had also upset third seeds Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic in the quarterfinals. (Agencies)