Unbeaten Djokovic faces Nadal in final after Rome epic

(CNN) — Novak Djokovic fought like a true champion to extend his winning run to 36 matches this year as he reached the final of the Rome Masters at the expense of Andy Murray on Saturday.

The Serbian triumphed 6-1 3-6 7-6 (7-2) in a three-hour semifinal epic to set up another showdown with world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, a player he has beaten in three Masters Series title matches this season.

Second-ranked Djokovic ended the Spaniard’s two-year unbeaten run on clay in the Madrid final, but it remains to be seen whether he has enough energy in reserve to repeat that on Sunday.

Nadal had a much easier passage as he defeated French 16th seed Richard Gasquet 7-5 6-1 in 93 minutes, ending the run of a player who had earlier beaten his longtime rival Roger Federer and seventh seed Tomas Berdych.

Djokovic had to dig deep as Murray showed tremendous resolve after capitulating in the first set — a showing that raised the prospect of a repeat of his Australian Open final defeat against the same player in January.

But the fourth seed — who turns 24 on Sunday — battled back to level, inflicting Djokovic’s first dropped set of the tournament, and then fought back again after going down 3-1 in the decider.

Murray, seeking to become the first British player to reach a top-level clay final since 1982, broke Djokovic’s serve twice in a row — the second time to love – as he went 4-3 ahead.

But Djokovic, who could have gone top in the rankings if Nadal had not reached the last four, broke back immediately.

Both players then dropped serve again — Murray after a morale-sapping double fault — but then held to take the match to a tie-break.

Djokovic had appeared to be on his last legs at several stages, but appeared rejuvenated as he raced to a 5-1 lead before reaching the final of an event he won in 2008.

He then roared with relief at an appreciative crowd as he showed just how much the victory meant to him ahead of his own 24th birthday on May 22.

Nadal beat Djokovic in the 2009 Rome final, and has won the event for five of the past six years.

But his status as “King of Clay” is under serious threat this year ahead of the French Open starting next month, where he is defending champion and seeking a sixth title since 2005.

“I am playing better every day and a little bit higher, so I think that in general I am happy for everything,” Nadal, who was hampered by illness earlier this week, told the ATP Tour website.

“I’m in another final, six in a row, and it is unbelievable. I had a tough week, so I am very happy for everything.”

Source : CNN


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