ROME: World number one Novak Djokovic stretched his winning streak over Rafael Nadal to seven matches on Friday with a thrilling 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) victory to book his spot in the Rome Masters semi-finals.
Djokovic, the defending champion, now faces the winner of the Friday’s last quarter-final, between Kei Nishikori of Japan and Austrian Dominic Thiem, as he bids for a fifth title in the Italian capital.
Nadal’s last win over the seemingly unstoppable Serbian goes back to his victory in the final of Roland Garros in 2014.
As a seven-time champion in Rome, Nadal’s commands plenty of support from the fans at the Foro Italico.
Nadal looked to have the measure of Djokovic by the time he won his first break at 3-2, but it seemed only to tighten Djokovic’s resolve.
Djokovic converted a third break point to pull level in the eighth game when Nadal misfired on a forehand.
In a pulsating 12th game, Djokovic upped the pressure and was rewarded on his fourth set point.
Nadal should have pulled the match level when he was 5-4 up in the second set, but a dogged Djokovic had other ideas.
With Nadal leading 5-4, Djokovic saved no less than five set points before breaking back on his first set point to level the set 5-5.
In an epic 11th game, Nadal raced to love 30 only for Djokovic to fight back and take the win after a Nadal return landed wide.
Djokovic was pumped, and despite Nadal serving to love to level 6-6, Djokovic moved up a gear in the tie break.
He raced to 3-1 lead but saw Nadal defy his service game to claw his way back with a spectacular turn and shot at the net that had the crowd on its feet.
Yet Nadal was wasteful again. He squandered the chance to level when a return landed outside the tramlines, handing Djokovic a crucial 4-2 tiebreak lead from which he never recovered.
Djokovic and Nadal have now met 49 times and the Serbian has taken their career match to 26-23.