Supreme Djokovic comes through titanic Rome tussle with Nadal


Novak Djokovic landed another major psychological blow over a rival ahead of the French Open, edging two gripping sets against Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali d'Italia.

Five days on from maintaining his dominant recent record against Andy Murray with a hard-fought victory in the final of the Madrid Open, Djokovic arguably stood up to an even sterner test as he recorded a seventh consecutive triumph against Nadal.

Djokovic has now won 15 sets in succession against the Spaniard, but his latest success was certainly no walk in the park as Nadal produced a fine performance of his own before going down 7-5 7-6 (7-4).

The two dominant forces in this event - reigning champion Djokovic and Nadal have shared the last 11 titles in Rome - served up a thrilling encounter on Friday, with both men operating at a high level throughout.

Nadal started the brighter and broke for a 3-2 lead when his opponent carelessly netted a forehand.

Djokovic exhibited clear frustration in his next service game, a mammoth 11-minute affair, pushing the arm of umpire Carlos Bernardes as the official investigated the mark left by a Nadal passing shot before ruling in the fifth seed's favour.

However, Djokovic soon had reason for cheer as he followed up a hard-fought hold by getting back on level terms and then moved 5-4 ahead with a sensational backhand winner, prompting gasps from an enthralled crowd.

That shot was celebrated enthusiastically by the world number one, but he was even more animated - with good reason -  after clinching the opener in stunning style by demonstrating outstanding reflexes and agility at the net to accept his fourth set point in a game riddled with errors from Nadal.

To his credit, Nadal responded superbly, breaking at the start of set two and initially staying in front despite receiving treatment on an apparent problem with his left foot during a changeover.

However, with a decider looming, the Spaniard spurned five set points in the 10th game and was ruthlessly punished as Djokovic forced a forehand error and drew level at 5-5.

Djokovic duly fought back from 0-30 in the next game to hold, another brilliant backhand winner epitomising his ability to save his best for the biggest points. And fittingly, it was another stroke from that wing that wrapped up the subsequent tie-break.