ROME, (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal showed his ruthless streak to overcome an early test from Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in a 6-4 6-1 win yesterday and helped Spain to secure three of the four semi-final spots at the Rome Masters.
Fernando Verdasco beat world number two Novak Djokovic for the second time in two weeks when he clinched an enthralling tussle 7-6 3-6 6-4 to set up a semi-final against compatriot David Ferrer.
Nadal, aiming for his fifth Rome title in six years, next faces Ernests Gulbis, who prevented a Spanish clean sweep of the last four by sinking Feliciano Lopez 7-6 6-1. The Latvian continued his run of form after ejecting world number one Roger Federer earlier in the week.
Former world number one Nadal has been a supreme force on red dirt this season after an injury-hit 2009, but he made a slow start yesterday.
He was bossed around in several rallies as he struggled to hold the early service games but finally found his range to break Wawrinka’s resistance at the end of the set.
He had to repel another strong attack on his serve in the first game of the second set before breaking in the next game with an outstanding forehand winner and then ran away with the encounter.
“In the first set I was in trouble for a long time,” Nadal told a news conference. “He was winning his service games much easier than me.
“At 5-4 (in the first set) I started playing better and after that I played really well. I played well today but I was better in Monte Carlo.”
Djokovic was thrashed by in-form sixth seed Verdasco in the semi-finals at Monte Carlo in their last meeting and yesterday’s match looked like it might follow a similar plot early on.
The Serb was under constant pressure, slamming his racket down in frustration after being pushed around in a rally before caving in on serve in the seventh game.
Djokovic, the 2008 Rome champion, responded bravely though, breaking when Verdasco was serving for the set. The pair traded breaks again before the Spaniard took the set in the tiebreak.
Djokovic did not panic and read his opponent’s meaty serve skilfully in the second set to break three times to one and claim it.
But Verdasco had a little more in the tank, even though he has played a lot of tennis recently after winning last week’s Barcelona Open, and prevailed with an ace after three hours and 17 minutes of big-hitting action.
The Serb said he has been hindered by health problems recently but was confident he would be one of the main contenders for the French Open, which begins next month.
“I’ve had real problems with allergies for the past two months and this has been really troubling,” he said.
“But everything else is in order and I’m happy with the way I played, so definitely the French Open is the place where I want to get a good result.
“I was very close to victory and I know that this match could have gone either way.”
Ferrer made light work of Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, triumphing 6-4 6-1 to book his place in the semis after knocking out Britain’s world number five Andy Murray on Thursday.
Federer was knocked out of the doubles in the quarter-finals along with compatriot Yves Allegro by American pair John Isner and Sam Querrey, 6-4 6-4.