Djokovic sets up Nadal clash
Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in the headline semi-final to set up a showdown on Sunday with Rafael Nadal for the Rome Masters title.
Defending champion Djokovic beat a weary-looking Federer 6-2 7-6 (7/4) on the clay in Rome, the last major tournament before the French Open, which begins at Roland Garros a week on Monday.
The world number one broke serve twice in a one-sided opening set and when he edged ahead again with a break in the second it seemed Djokovic would win with ease.
There was a flicker of a fight left in Federer and he saved a match point at 5-4 down with a big forehand across court that seemed to clip the outside of a sideline.
Federer managed to break serve in that game to bring the set back to 5-5, and forced a tie-break.
But once Djokovic inched in front by claiming an immediate mini-break and backing it up on his next two service points, Federer was staring at defeat.
The Swiss defended his serve but there was no denying Djokovic this time as he wrapped up victory.
Earlier Nadal beat his fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in a contrasting manner, coming through 7-6 (8/6) 6-0.
And tomorrow's match will be a repeat of last year's final, when for the first time, after five previous triumphs, Nadal lost in a title match at the tournament.
Nadal struggled through a gruelling opening set against Ferrer today in which he faced a flurry of break points yet dropped just one game on serve.
Ferrer's chance had disappeared when the tie-break went Nadal's way, and the second set was far less evenly contested.
Maria Sharapova and Li Na will meet in the final of the women's singles after Serena Williams withdrew from her semi-final.
Williams was due to meet reigning French Open champion Li in the first semi-final but pulled out due to a back problem.
She insists the injury will not prevent her competing at Roland Garros, and that her withdrawal was to save herself for the year's second grand slam.
"I'm fine, I'll be 100% for the French," said the American, in comments reported by BBC Sport. "I've been feeling a little pain this week and I have a huge schedule coming up.
"I've been playing a lot and my body is getting used to a lot of matches again.
"My form is good heading to Paris. I want to be ready for the next couple of months."
The second semi-final went ahead as planned, and Sharapova eased to a 90-minute straight-sets win over Angelique Kerber.
The German's performance this week will see her move into the top 10 when the updated world rankings are released on Monday, but she was well beaten by world number two Sharapova.
The Russian broke twice in each set and won 63% of points on her own serve to close out a 6-3 6-4 win.