Djokovic defeats Del Potro in Rome classic

Published by DPA/Tennismash

Novak Djokovic fought back to beat Juan Martin del Potro in the early hours of Saturday morning; Getty Images
Novak Djokovic beats Juan Martin del Potro in an epic Rome quarterfinal, Rafael Nadal makes smoother progress but Roger Federer withdraws.

Novak Djokovic came through a three-hour epic to defeat a resurgent Juan Martin del Potro and reach the Italian Open semifinals.

The world No.1 saved two match points on his way to a 4-6 7-6(6) 6-4 win that sets up a semifinal against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the other semifinal.

Del Potro saved six break points on his way to taking the first set against Djokovic and earned two chances to close it out in the second set tiebreak, but the top seed was not to be denied.

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Djokovic clawed his way back to level at one set all and got the decisive break in game five of the decider as the match headed into the early hours of Saturday morning.

“I never lost faith I could come back to the match,” Djokovic told atptour.com.

“One break of serve, mini break in the tiebreak when he was 6-4, more or less open forehand that he was making the entire match, that’s all it took for me to come back.

“He missed a couple crucial points in the tiebreak. Also break point third set, quite easy forehand. That’s what happens. That’s sport. I’m just really pleased to overcome.”

In the other half of the draw, Tsitsipas progressed after he was handed a walkover following Roger Federer’s earlier withdrawal.

The 37-year-old Swiss, who was making a return to the European claycourt season after two years away, won back-to-back matches against Joao Sousa and Borna Coric to reach the quarterfinals.

But the the 20-times Grand Slam champion was forced to pull out with an injury to his right leg.

“I am not 100 per cent physically and after consultation with my team, it was determined that I not play,” Federer said.

“Rome has always been one of my favourite cities to visit, and I hope to be back next year.”

Nadal will have a chance to claim revenge against Tsitsipas, who beat him in Madrid last week, after defeating fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-4 6-0 to reach the semifinals.

Nadal was broken in the very first game before he hit back to deny his compatriot a single game in the second with a masterful claycourt display.

Looking back to that defeat by Tsitsipas in Madrid, Nadal said: “What happened, I know. The solution, I know. The execution is not easy.

“The theory is always easy, but the execution is much more difficult. Tennis is a simple sport. After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I’m going to try to do it better tomorrow.”

Schwartzman advanced to the last four with a dominant 6-4 6-2 victory over world No.6 Kei Nishikori on the Court Grandstand.

The Argentine nearly squandered a 5-0 lead in the opening set as Nishikori rallied to win the next four games, but did enough to progress to the semis.

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