Top-ranked Novak Djokovic edged Roger Federer on Saturday to set up another meeting with rival Rafael Nadal in the Italian Open final.
The defending champion at the Foro Italico, Djokovic beat Federer 6-2, 7-6 (4). Five-time winner Nadal eliminated fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6 (6), 6-0 in the other semi-final.
In women’s action, Maria Sharapova comfortably defeated rising German player Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 and will defend her title against French Open champion Li Na. The Chinese player advanced after Serena Williams withdrew shortly before their semi-final with a lower back injury.
Djokovic beat Nadal in last year’s final, and also defeated the Spaniard in an epic Australian Open final in January, which at 5 hours, 53 minutes was the longest Grand Slam championship match ever. Nadal easily won their last meeting in the Monte Carlo final last month when Djokovic was mourning the death of his grandfather.
Against Federer, Djokovic was cruising until he served for the match at 5-4 in the second. Federer saved a match point with a blazing inside-out forehand crosscourt winner, then converted his first break point of the match to draw level.
However, even with the sell-out crowd of 10,500 doing their best to encourage Federer, the 16-time Grand Slam winner made a series of costly groundstroke errors in the tiebreaker to hand Djokovic the win.
In all, Federer committed more than twice as many unforced -errors as Djokovic, 42-20.
Earlier, Nadal struggled with his backhand, but overcame a difficult first set to post his 11th consecutive win on clay over Ferrer.
Nadal won clay titles in Barcelona and Monte Carlo this year before losing in the third round on an experimental blue surface in Madrid last week.
Earlier, Sharapova controlled her match with aggressive baseline play, leading 27-9 in winners against the 12th-seeded Kerber.
Sharapova has won three of her last five titles on clay, beating top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the Stuttgart final last month to add to her titles in Rome last year and Strasbourg the year before. The French Open, which starts next weekend, remains the only Grand Slam the Russian has yet to win.
At 24, and just a year younger than Sharapova, Kerber won her first career title at the Paris Indoors this year, then took another title in Copenhagen. The German will break into the top 10 for the first time when the WTA rankings are updated today.
It will be Li’s second final of this year after losing the Sydney championship to Victoria Azarenka. Li beat Sharapova in the semi-finals at last year’s French Open, while Sharapova won their last meeting in Miami in March.
Williams said her back problem also affected her game earlier this week, but added that said she would be ready for Roland Garros.
The decision ended Williams’ winning streak at 17 matches. She had won consecutive titles in Charleston, South Carolina, and Madrid, plus two matches in Fed Cup. Still, Williams will move up one spot to No. 5 in the rankings today.