ROME (Reuters) – Holder Novak Djokovic took advantage of Roger Federer’s slump after a rain break to win 4-6 6-3 6-3 yesterday and set up a Rome Masters final against world number one Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, a triple champion here, powered past Chilean 12th seed Fernando Gonzalez 6-3 6-3.
“He’s going to be the favorite to win again,” the third-ranked Djokovic told reporters. “But I have my chances especially after the great performance in Monte Carlo (last month).
“I learned I have to play every point against him,” added the Serb who took Nadal to three sets in the Monte Carlo Masters final. That’s what I’m going to try to do today. Physically prepare to be ready to play long rallies and wait for the chances.”
Second seed Federer, yet to win a title this year, looked to be cruising when leading 6-4 2-1 but rain then stopped play for about an hour.
The Swiss broke in the ninth game when Djokovic, whose concentration had been disturbed by a spectator whistling just as he was about to take his second serve, hit a forehand long. Federer went on to claim the first set before breaking the 21-year-old Serb again at the start of the second.
He had chances to go 3-0 and 4-1 up either side of the rain break before wild shots helped Djokovic force a third set. The third seed then charged back from a break down in the decider.
“I feel this is not a match I should have given away because I was a break up in the second, break up in the third and I usually don’t give away opportunities like this,” said Federer. “I was playing him well, serving well when I had to and putting him under pressure. The rain delay came at a perfect moment for him but he might have come back anyway and beat me.” Djokovic agreed the interruption helped him turn things around.
“Obviously everybody will say the rain helped me,” said the Serb. “It’s a fact. I played much better after the break.
“I started being more patient, moving much better, giving him more balls back and making him play more.”
Gonzalez pulled off the rare feat of breaking Nadal to love to rally after losing his serve early on. However the Spaniard produced a fierce reaction, winning the next six games on his way to victory.
“I’m very happy. It was certainly a very good result against a tough opponent like Fernando,” Nadal said. “I’ll have to be playing at 100 percent to have a good chance of winning (the final).
“He’s going to play aggressively, I think, because that’s his game. I have to play aggressively with my forehand and try to have control of the points.
“If I don’t do that it’s going to be really difficult because if he is attacking it is really tough to play against Novak.”