Rome – World No 1 and 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 number two, 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 Federer 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.
After defeating Ferrer for the 12th consecutive time on clay, Nadal will face Djokovic for the 32nd time on Sunday, 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.
Djokovic controlled Federer in their first meeting since the US Open semis last autumn when Federer held two match points but lost. Since that disappointment he has won seven ATP titles.
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 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 in the Italian capital, 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.
“It was unbelievable how David started, he had great rhythm, no errors, was playing aggressive and moving well,” said Nadal.
“All I could do was try to keep the score close as I thought he could not go on at that level.
“After the first six or seven games, our levels became more equal.
“It is great to be in another Rome final, the final preparation before Roland Garros.”
Nadal, with claycourt titles this season in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, added: “Even if I lose I feel I've had a great preparation during the red clay season. Reaching the final is the best thing that could have happened. My clay season has been almost perfect.
“It's unbelievable to be in seven of them here but I'm expecting a tough match on Sunday.”
Play progressed at a glacial pace on Saturday, with the first four games taking 33 minutes which was longer than Federer's winning first set on Friday against Andreas Seppi.
The second game took up half of that time as Nadal fought off seven break points to finally hold for 2-1.
Ferrer double-faulted away a service game to trail 3-2 as his rival started to get a grip on the match.
Nadal won the 84-minute marathon in a tiebreaker and then began to sprint in the second set to take a 3-0 lead. Ferrer saved five break points in the fourth game before falling to defeat.
Spain's 10-time Grand Slam champion will be competing in his 70th career ATP final on Sunday, defending a record of 48-21.
He and Federer currently 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 compatriot Fernando Verdasco last week. – Sapa-AFP