Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic to play for title in Rome

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ROME — Top-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic will renew their rivalry in the Italian Open final Sunday.

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Novak Djokovic returns the ball in a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Milos Raonic in the Italian Open semifinals.  GREGORIO BORGIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
GREGORIO BORGIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Novak Djokovic returns the ball in a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Milos Raonic in the Italian Open semifinals.

There will be an enticing women’s championship too, with top-ranked Serena Williams to face Sara Errani, the tournament’s first Italian finalist in nearly 30 years.

Having been stretched to three sets in his opening three matches this week, Nadal finally put in a complete performance with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals on Saturday.

Nadal went the distance against Gilles Simon, Mikhail Youzhny and Andy Murray in his opening rounds this week but had relatively little trouble against Dimitrov.

“Today was a good confirmation that I really played better. ... A lot of positive things,” Nadal said. “(Djokovic) is playing great and it’s going to be a really tough match.”

Earlier, Djokovic took his time before figuring out Milos Raonic’s massive serve for a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory in the last key clay-court tuneup before the French Open starts next weekend.

Nadal holds a 22-18 career edge vs. Djokovic but the Serb won their last meeting for the Sony Open title in March in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Nadal already has a record seven titles in Rome, while Djokovic is seeking his third championship at the Foro Italico. They have met in three finals here, with Nadal winning two of them.

Williams overcame a second-set lapse to beat Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 and gain a measure of revenge for a fourth-round loss to the Serb at this year’s Australian Open.

Using vocal crowd support to her advantage, Errani fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the second set for a 6-3, 7-5 win over two-time Rome champion Jelena Jankovic.

Williams is aiming for her third Rome title, having won this clay-court tuneup for Roland Garros in 2002 and last year. The American is 6-0 in her career against Errani and lost just one game in their last meeting, in the semifinals of last year’s French Open.

Djokovic’s win was a struggle, with Raonic serving near 230 kph (more than 140 mph) and firing 16 aces.

“I can’t recall the last time when I was feeling so helpless in the return games,” Djokovic said. “It was brutal.”

Afterward, Djokovic appealed for help for his flood-hit native Serbia, and wrote a message of support on a camera lens, adding ‘I love you’ in Cyrillic.

“This is a total catastrophe of biblical proportions,” he said. “Half the country is in danger of not having electricity.”

Errani drew emotion from the crowd.

“There were a few moments when I thought I might not pull it off but the fans were huge,” said Errani, who is attempting to become the first Italian to win the tournament since Raffaella Reggi took the 1985 title in Taranto.

The last Italian man to win was Adriano Panatta back in 1976.

It’s already Errani’s best result since reaching the 2012 French Open final.

Jankovic, the 2007 and 2008 Rome champion, repeatedly asked the chair umpire to come down and check marks but none of them were overturned, resulting only in the crowd stepping up its encouragement for Errani.

“Just do it, Sara. Just do it, Sara,” the fans cheered late in the second set.

The highly partisan crowd frequently applauded Errani while points were still being played and cheered even when Jankovic double-faulted.

“(The crowd) was all on her side but it’s normal, she’s the local player,” Jankovic said. “I tried to stay focused on my game, and play my tennis but she was the better player today.”


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