Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer would clash for the 25th time in yesterday’s Rome Masters semi-finals, while Rafael Nadal also progressed, ensuring the big three all made the last four of this crucial French Open warm-up.
Defending champion Djokovic, the top seed, fought through the first set, before racing away in the second to beat French fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-1.
Federer, fresh from his Madrid Masters triumph last weekend, followed the script with a 6-1, 6-2 demolition of Italian Andreas Seppi in just 53 minutes, with the Swiss third seed winning 14 of the first 15 points.
Second seed Nadal, meanwhile, got the better of Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych, grinding out a 6-4, 7-5 win and was scheduled to meet fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
“It was a very good match for me. From the start I played aggressive,” Federer said. “The goals have to be the same against Djokovic — take it to him and play my game.”
Rome is one of the few big events Federer has not won, losing finals in 2003 and 2006.
However, the Swiss star, who has not played Djokovic since his marathon US Open semi-final defeat last year, showed his clay game is nearing perfection, just a week before the start of the French Open.
Djokovic was tested early on by Tsonga in a first set filled with five breaks of serve. However, after winning the opener in nearly an hour, Tsonga’s defenses collapsed as the top seed came home for his 29th win of the season.
“In the second set I played one of the best sets on clay this year,” Serb star Djokovic said. “This is encouraging for the challenges ahead. With Roland Garros coming, I’m playing and feeling better in every match.”
Nadal was to face off in the final four against compatriot and sixth seed Ferrer, who beat French 15th seed Richard Gasquet 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
“I’m happy to do so well after also playing well in Monte Carlo and Barcelona [where he won both titles]. It was a big match, because the level of the opponent was high and he plays with big confidence. I played under pressure all the time,” Nadal said.
Nadal showed he has regained his blistering form after a poor third-round loss a week ago on blue clay in Madrid, as he beat Berdych for the 11th time in succession in a struggle lasting just over two hours.
The French Open champion produced 34 winners and just 10 unforced errors in a superlative display, while Berdych went for broke throughout, posting 28 winners and 24 unforced errors, and losing serve three times.
World No. 3 Nadal has now won all but two of his 36 matches at the Foro Italico and has emerged victorious in all three clay meetings with a player he also beat in the 2010 Wimbledon final.
Ferrer needed an hour and three-quarters before putting out Gasquet, who played the Estoril final on clay earlier this month.
The gutsy Spaniard, who is still seeking his first title this season, went through to the quarter-finals in Rome for the first time.
Meanwhile, defending women’s singles champion Maria Sharapova shattered hopes of a Williams sisters double act at the Rome International by breezing past Venus Williams 6-4, 6-3 on Friday to reach the semi-finals.
However, Serena Williams, the ninth seed, advanced 4-0 when Italian opponent Flavia Pennetta withdrew with a right wrist injury.
Sharapova, seeded second, and the winner on clay in Stuttgart last month, demolished the elder Williams, who ended her afternoon with a fifth double-fault on match point.