Djokovic survives match points to down dogged Del Potro
Novak Djokovic survived two match points to triumph in a three-set epic against Juan Martin del Potro and book his spot in the semi-finals of the ATP Internazionali d'Italia.
Four-time champion Djokovic was staring down the barrel in Rome when Del Potro had two chances for victory in a second-set tie-break on Friday.
But the world number one, who had won his previous two encounters with Del Potro in Rome in straight sets, dug deep to stave off those threats and went on to record a 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 triumph in the Italian capital.
Earlier in the day, defending champion Rafael Nadal outclassed Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-4 6-0 to set up a rematch with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who benefitted from Roger Federer's withdrawal.
DJOKOVIC DENIES DOGGED DEL POTRO
The saying goes 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do' and Djokovic and Del Potro put on a show worthy of any amphitheatre.
Djokovic appeared to have Del Potro's number early doors but three break-point chances went begging and the Argentinian clinically broke for a 4-3 lead.
After saving three more break points to see out the opener, Del Potro broke back in the second set to force a breaker that he wrested control of when Djokovic went long when trailing 5-4.
But two match points went due to a wild forehand and an exquisite Djokovic drop shot, and the Serbian rebounded to level the match.
A third set of the highest quality included a warm clap of the hands at the net after a stunning Del Potro drop-shot, but Djokovic made the crucial break in game five.
Djokovic will now face Diego Schwartzman in the semi-finals after the latter outclassed sixth seed Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-2.
REVENGE IN MIND FOR RAFA?
It was a sluggish start for Nadal, who survived a break-point chance that would have put Verdasco 3-0 ahead early in the first set.
But from there it was textbook stuff as the former world number one won 12 of the final 14 games, with Nadal having now earned a bagel in three straight matches.
Next up is Tsitsipas, a familiar foe for Nadal. The Greek triumphed just a week ago when the two met in the semi-final in Madrid.
Federer's retirement due to a right-leg injury means Tsitsipas should be fresh for a renewed challenge.