Serbian great Novak Djokovic got off to a rocky start against Kei Nishikori before battling back to win 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 and set up an Italian Open semi-final showdown against seven-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain.
Djokovic, a four-time champion at this clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event, was outplayed from the baseline in the early going by the Japanese star on Friday. But the Serbian settled in and started dictating the rallies in the second set, which he won handily. He had a fight on his hands once again though in the third set and had to stave off a break point to avoid going down 4-2.
In the end though, Djokovic’s stellar groundstrokes, defence and athleticism led him to his 13th win in 15 matches against Nishikori. Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam champion who missed the latter part of last season with an elbow injury and has seen his ranking fall to No.18, is trying to get his game in shape in time for the French Open, which gets underway on May 27.
Nadal advanced to the semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory earlier on Friday over Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
Meanwhile, fifth-ranked Croatian Marin Cilic rolled past Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta 6-3, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals of the Italian Open tennis tournament and book his first-ever berth in the final four of a clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. The 2014 US Open champion, a big server whose greatest success has come on hard and grass courts, needed just an hour and five minutes to clinch his third win over the 11th-ranked Spaniard in as many career matches.
The 29-year-old Cilic won the contest in a straight-forward fashion, not facing a single break point on serve and going three-for-three on his break-point chances. “I’m feeling great (after reaching) my first semi-final on clay at a Masters 1000 event,” Cilic said.
“I was waiting many years for it to happen, so it’s definitely a happy moment for sure.”
Cilic, who is eyeing a second Masters 1000 title following his 2016 Cincinnati Masters triumph, will next take on either German defending champion and world No. 3 Alexander Zverev. Nearly all of tennis’ top men’s and women’s players are in Rome to tune their games for the year’s biggest clay-court tournament, the French Open, which gets underway on May 27.