TENNIS: Djokovic, Nadal in Rome Masters final rematch
RIVALRY: Serb dumps Federer to set up showdown with Rafa
ROME: WORLD No 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic swept past Roger Federer on Saturday to set up a Rome Masters final rematch with five-time winner Rafael Nadal.
In women's play, defending champion Maria Sharapova was playing French Open champion Li Na of China in the final late yesterday.
Top seed Djokovic ended Federer's brilliant run of recent clay form, defeating the World No 2, and last week's Madrid champion, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) while Nadal reached a seventh Rome final with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-0 win over compatriot David Ferrer.
Federer saved a match point for 5-5 in the second set as he broke Djokovic on a stinging forehand winner.
But he could not extend that battling instinct into the tiebreaker, with Djokovic taking victory on his second winning chance as the Swiss put a backhand long after an hour and 39 minutes on court.
"This was my best match on clay so far," said Djokovic. "I was focused from the beginning and very determined and concentrated.
"I was hitting the ball well and returning extremely well. I was making him play the extra shot and make errors."
After defeating Ferrer for the 12th consecutive time on clay, Nadal will face Djokovic for the 32nd time, with the Spaniard going into the contest holding a 17-14 lead.
Nadal won their last meeting in April for the Monte Carlo title, snapping a run of seven consecutive losses to his rival in finals dating back to March 2011.
"I've raised the level of our rivalry," said Djokovic.
"Playing Rafa in the finals again is very encouraging. It is what I want before Roland Garros."
Djokovic controlled Federer in their first meeting since the US Open semis last autumn when Federer held two match points but lost.
Since that disappointment he has won seven ATP titles.
Djokovic, appearing in his fifth straight semi-final in Rome, improved to 22-3 at the venue, one of the few where Federer does not own a trophy after losing the 2003 and 2006 finals.
Federer had won 14 of 24 matches in their series coming in, including three of four on clay.
Nadal, winner of the Foro Italico trophy in five of seven appearances, also won a 39th straight clay-court semi-final and has not lost at the final-four stage on the surface since 2003.
Ferrer, a legendary scrambler on the dirt, was beaten by his countryman in Rome for the third time as Nadal polished his career record here to 35-2.
He now stands 15-4 in the pair's series. AFP