Djokovic, Federer out to slow Nadal clay juggernaut

May 2nd, 2009 - 3:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Rafael Nadal Rome, May 2 (DPA) Rafael Nadal continued to star on the spring clay with another one-way victory as supporting cast Roger Federer and holder Novak Djokovic lined up a grudge semi-final at the Rome Masters.
Top-seeded clay king Nadal defeated Fernando Verdasco, making his mark 8-0 through a 6-3, 6-3 quarter-final scoreline Friday.

He will face off Saturday against Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, who staged a fight-back to beat Argentine Juan Monaco 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal needed a quick turnaround after a win Thursday night in the chill.

“Today it was completely different conditions, the ball was flying so much,” said Nadal. “I like the conditions today.

“Last night I played really well, and today I didn’t play my best. I had some mistakes, especially in the second set.”

The success followed up on his Australian Open semi-final five-set marathon win against his fellow Spaniard, with Verdasco grimacing in pain as a trainer saw to his bandaged left knee in the final Rome changeover.

Nadal won his 28th straight match on clay as he bids for a fourth Italian title from the past five editions after losing early last year.

The world number one stands 36-3 on the season with a leading four titles after lifting Monte Carlo and Barcelona in the last two weeks.

Federer, seeded second, held off a first-set challenge from German qualifier Mischa Zverev to book into a semi-final with Djokovic. The Swiss beat Zverev 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 as the fighting 21-year-old left-hander stretched a tight first set out to nearly an hour.

But a break from Federer to start the second set proved the turning point, with the experienced Swiss running out the victory after Zvereva saved a match point in the penultimate game on his own serve.

“That was a good test, he’s a great player. It was an interesting first match we had,” said the winner, a two-time Rome finalist.

Djokovic maintained his bid for a possible title defence at the Foro Italico, overcoming Argentine Juan Del Potro 6-3, 6-4.

Federer holds a 7-3 margin over Djokovic, but the Serb won their last meeting little more than a month ago on Miami hard court when he beat the under-done Swiss in a semi-final comeback.

“We haven’t had each other that much on clay (two Monte Carlo matches won by Federer). Seems like he’s playing well again,” said the 13-time Grand Slam champion Swiss. “He came through very

convincing against good players, so I expect a good match.

“I hope I can play better than in Miami.”

And Djokovic is taking the showdown especially seriously.

“Certainly the toughest opponent on this surface is Nadal, but Roger has been playing really well on clay.

“He’s played three French Open finals, won Hamburg and been to the final stages of each clay court event in last four, five years. He’s certainly, behind Nadal, the best player that plays on this surface.”

But he warned: “I think I’ve been improving, so I have good chances.”

Djokovic is chasing his second trophy of the season after winning Dubai in February.

The Serb is trying to stay focused on the moment with the debut of his family’s new Serbia Open set for Monday in Belgrade as ATP tennis comes to the Balkan nation for the first time.

Djokovic won his 29th match of the season against nine defeats, profiting as the frustrated Del Potro struck 31 unforced errors and dropped serve three times.

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