World number one Novak Djokovic saved two match points against former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro to advance to the semifinals of the Italian Open in a three-set Roman thriller on Friday as defending champion Rafael Nadal swept through without dropping a set.
Djokovic saved match points in the second set tie-break before winning through 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-4, sealing victory with an ace on his first match point after a three-hour battle.
“I had luck in the decisive moments in the second set tiebreak,” said the 31-year-old.
“Towards the end of the first set he just started hitting the ball really well from both corners.
“Also backhand side, backhand down the line. He was playing really well. Gave me a lot of trouble. But I never lost faith,” the four-time Rome winner said.
“I’m just really pleased to overcome.”
Del Potro had pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami with a knee injury, but matched Madrid Open winner Nadal shot for shot, wrapping up the first set 6-4 in just over an hour.
The world number nine received treatment on a bloodied big toe after Djokovic levelled one-set all.
But he kept up the pressure with Djokovic again needing to save three break points on his serve in the fourth game of the final set before breaking for 3-2 as the momentum swung his way.
The 15-time Grand Slam winner next plays Argentine Diego Schwartzman, who eliminated Japanese sixth seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2.
Eight-time Rome champion Nadal eased through 6-4, 6-0 against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco to set up a rematch with Greek rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the final.
For 32-year-old Nadal it is his fourth straight semifinal on clay this season, but he has not managed to go further before his bid for a 12th French Open title at Roland Garros.
“After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I’m going to try to do it better tomorrow,” said 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal.