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De Clercq hangs on to take first career win in Giro d’Italia

Reuters, ROME

Rafael Nadal made sure he retained his world No. 1 status at the French Open after cruising past Croat Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-3 in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters on Friday.

Nadal showed no signs of the fever that had brought him to the brink of pulling out on Thursday in a typically clinical display, hammering the world No. 23 to set up a semi-final against Richard Gasquet.

Second seed Novak Djokovic stretched his unbeaten run for the year to 35 matches after dispatching fifth-seed Robin Soderling 6-3, 6-0. The Serb will meet Andy Murray, who became the first British player in the tournament’s professional era to reach the final four after outlasting unseeded German Florian Mayer 1-6, 6-1, 6-1.

Champion for five of the past six years, Nadal raced into a 4-0 lead, breaking Cilic’s serve with a ferocious forehand top spinner and backhand crosscourt before taking the first set.

The Croat, who had won one of his previous two meetings against Nadal, stayed with the Spaniard until the seventh game of the second set when the top seed moved up an extra gear to break twice more, bringing his overall win-loss run in Rome to 30-1.

After losing his opening service game against Soderling, Djokovic stormed back, making the decisive break in the eighth game with a screaming crosscourt backhand to take the set.

The second set was an ordeal for the big Swede as Djokovic moved him around the court with a combination of dainty drop shots and flashing strokes to win the set to love.

Murray began his match with Mayer in ragged fashion, dropping the first set before storming to victory against the world No. 27 having never got beyond the third round in six previous visits.

Gasquet followed up his third-round defeat of Roger Federer by knocking out seventh-seed Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

In the women’s matches French Open champion and home favorite Francesca Schiavone lost in the quarter-finals as Samantha Stosur gained revenge for defeat in last year’s Roland Garros final.

Second seed Schiavone had no answer to the Australian’s powerful game as she lost 6-2, 6-4 to the disappointment of the fans inside the Foro Italico.

Stosur next faces China’s Li Na, while world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki battled past Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to set up a semi-final with Russian Maria Sharapova.

At one set down and 3-3 there were signs that Schiavone was beginning to find some inspiration, but there was to be no repeat of her fightback against Daniela Hantuchova in the third round as sixth seed Stosur broke in the ninth game.

The Australian said she was looking ahead to playing fourth seed Li, who ousted Hungarian Greta Arn 6-3, 6-1.

Wozniacki reached the semi--finals in Rome for the first time, but had to come through a mighty scrap against twice former champion Jankovic.

The 20-year-old, who is yet to win a Grand Slam tournament, said she is beginning to find her feet on clay.

After a cautious start Wozniacki broke in the fifth game of the first set before going on to clinch the set in solid style.

Jankovic, a finalist in three of the past four years, clawed her way back with some flashing returns to take a 3-0 before breaking serve twice more to level the match.

When the Serbian recovered from 0-40 to take the sixth game and level the decider at 3-3 it seemed Wozniacki might rue the missed opportunity.

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