Nadal sets up Ferrer clash
Rafael Nadal will face David Ferrer in an all-Spanish Rome Masters semi-final after both men beat their last-eight opponents in straight sets.
Nadal beat seventh-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 6-4 7-5 in an entertaining clash on Court Centrale, while Ferrer earlier ousted Frenchman Richard Gasquet 7-6(4) 6-3.
Second seed Nadal was in imperious form against a vibrant Berdych, the world number three showing his incredible retrieving skills and a handful of crowd-pleasing winners while his opponent played some fantastic tennis at times - but not consistently enough to take a set off the Spaniard.
It was just the tonic for Nadal after his hellish experience on the new blue clay of Madrid, while Berdych - who hit 28 winners to the Spaniard's 34 - showed some spells of top-four tennis that bodes well for Roland Garros.
"I played one of my best matches of the year today," Nadal said afterwards. "Tomas is a player with a lot of confidence and playing very well, so I am very happy with how I played.
"I did one fantastic thing, in my opinion. I stepped inside the court a lot, with my forehand and my movements were fantastic."
Nadal, who has won six times in Rome and beat his semi-final opponent Ferrer to win in Barcelona, admitted he would have to play better than he did in Catalonia last month.
"I was a little bit lucky in some moments in Barcelona," he added. "I didn't play my best tennis that day.
"I know I can play better than that and I will have to play my best tennis against David because he is a great player.
"But I am very happy with the way I am playing and the way I have played the whole clay court season."
A first-game break to love was enough for Nadal to take the first set as his opponent started sluggishly.
Berdych was struggling to win points against serve despite displaying impressive power and movement at times: he could not break Nadal, who was as stubborn and accurate as ever as he held on to the first set.
The Czech improved as the match went on, and almost broke Nadal at 1-2 in the second set; that seemed to boost him and he took the first of two break points at the next time of asking, a superb return putting Nadal on the back foot, the Spaniard going long to fall 2-4 behind.
But the former world number one has incredible levels of reserve, fighting back to deuce after some majestic service play and pressurising Berdych into double-faulting to successive break points.
After a third failed attempt to serve while at advantage, Berdych crumbled under the pressure, two unforced errors gifting Nadal a break-back and allowing the Spaniard to level with a delightful backhand drop shot after what seemed like a winner from the Czech.
It was even again, but the momentum was with Nadal and he hunted Berdych down, fighting back from 40-15 to deuce at 4-4 with neither man able to kill off an epic game.
It was Berdych’s hold in the end, but Nadal had him in his sights and broke at 5-5 with some superb returns and passes.
Nadal was serving for the match but Berdych responded with an epic display, saving match point with a superbly placed return as they battled on deuce.
A second match point was too much for the Czech though as he hit long to leave Nadal celebrating a fine comeback from his nightmare in Madrid.
Sixth seed Ferrer had earlier moved into the semis with a 7-6(4) 6-3 win over the 16th-seeded Gasquet.
The Spaniard needed just over an hour and three quarters to see off the Frenchman, whose mobility seemed restricted after his shock defeat of Andy Murray in the previous round.
Gasquet still had some fine shot-making in him though, as the pair exchanged breaks in a tight first set that Ferrer took on a similarly-close tiebreak.
The second set was more straightforward though, with Gasquet barely making a dent in the Spaniard's serve, a sole break late in the set enough for Ferrer.