Novak Djokovic survived a nail-biter of a two-set match between himself and seven-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal to reach the semifinals on Friday at the Italian Open, battling past Nadal 7-5, 7-6(4). The world number one trailed in both sets but battled back to claim an epic victory in just under two and a half hours.
Djokovic fights back for opener
Nadal began putting pressure on the Djokovic serve from the very first point, standing up and driving the Serbian around the court. He was unable to break on that occasion, but through the early stages, it was Nadal taking initiative, holding with ease regularly while applying pressure. He was finally rewarded with a double break point opportunity in the fifth game, and grabbed the break lead when Djokovic drove a forehand into the net.
After Nadal held for 4-2, he picked off year another Djokovic drop shot to the Spaniard’s backhand for a winner. The Serb had been attempting to use the drop to no avail all day. In that game, Nadal dominated the game, but struggled at the end of points and even though a ridiculous lob return from the Spaniard was called in by the chair umpire kept the game alive, Djokovic held despite missing multiple game points.
The Serb turned up his level in the following game, racing ahead 0-40. But this time, it was Nadal who upped his game, saving all three, including one with an ace. But a miss-hit at deuce gave Djokovic a fourth break point and the Spaniard drove a forehand long to put the match back on serve. The set remained on serve until Nadal was serving to stay in the set at 5-6. A series of forehand errors gave Djokovic set point, but Nadal saved it with a well-timed drop shot. Two more set points would pass Djokovic up before he finally closed it out 7-5 by winning a wild net exchange.
Nadal can’t close out set and Djokovic claims victory
After outplaying Djokovic for most of the opening set but still losing, Nadal immediately tried to take the initiative back in the second set, grabbing double break point in the opening game. On the second, Djokovic drove a shot wide, giving Nadal the break, and immediately threw his racquet to the court in frustration. The Spaniard quickly held to love to consolidate for a 2-0 lead. After Djokovic held for 2-1, Nadal called for the trainer complaining of numbness is his heavily-taped left foot. Regardless, he fought out of a 0-30 hole and held for a 3-1 lead.
Nadal served for the set at 5-4 and drama ensued. He held a set point at 40-30 but missed a forehand. He had a brilliant chance on his next set point but missed a counter-drop shot into the net. On the fourth set point, a fan yelled out as Nadal hit a shot, causing the Spaniard to slice his backhand into the net. After missing five set points, Nadal shanked a forehand to give Djokovic a break point, and he converted he Nadal dumped a shot into the net.
In the following game, Nadal raced ahead 0-30, only for Djokovic battle back and win a titanic rally at 30-30 before going on to hold. Nadal followed suit and the second set was heading to a tiebreak. After claiming his first point on serve, Djokovic swiftly grabbed the minibreak. He held it for most of the tiebreak, until Nadal reclaimed it and closed to 5-4. But with the Spaniard serving, the world number one made his final charge, stealing both points on the Nadal serve to seal the victory in two hours and 25 minutes.
By the numbers
Statistically, there was very little between the two men. Their service numbers were similar, the key difference being Djokovic held nine break point opportunities, converting three, while Nadal only had three chances, though he converted two of them. The big difference was Djokovic won the key points, including saving five set points in the second set. In the end, the world number one only won three more points than Nadal.
Djokovic, the two-time defending champion, will have a rematch of the semifinals last week in Madrid when he takes on Kei Nishikori in the semis in Rome.