Second-seeded Novak Djokovic moved one step closer to winning a third career Rome Masters title Friday, dispatching fifth-seeded David Ferrer in a hard-fought three-set match to advance to the semifinals.
ESPN Tennis confirmed the 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 scoreline:
The win improves Djokovic to 12-5 against Ferrer all time and marks his sixth consecutive victory over the one they call the "Little Beast."
Djokovic addressed the challenge of playing Ferrer on his best surface ahead of Friday's quarterfinal, per ATPWorldTour.com: "[Ferrer] has had an incredible career overall, but especially on clay. It’s going to be a big challenge and we’ll see where my game is."
The world No. 2's game appears to be in a very good place following Friday's thrilling victory. Although nothing came easy, everything was working for Djokovic against Ferrer, as he showcased his dynamite backhand, superior speed and flexibility and incredible resiliency time and time again.
|Quarterfinal: (2) N. Djokovic def. (5) D. Ferrer; 7-5, 4-6, 6-3|
|1st Serve %||Break Points||Winners||Unforced Errors|
|(2) N. Djokovic||62||4/12||39||35|
|(5) D. Ferrer||65||3/6||25||28|
Both players were serving well to start Friday, as they held serve through the first five games of the opening set. Djokovic seized control midway through the set, though, breaking Ferrer and consolidating in the following game to pull ahead 5-2.
The gritty Spaniard battled back, breaking Djokovic en route to leveling the set at five games apiece, but a controversial no-call by the chair umpire in the final game of the set resulted in a 7-5 triumph for the Serb.
As SI's Beyond the Baseline on Twitter notes, Ferrer let the official know he was upset as he made his way to his chair:
Both men were aggressive in the first set, but it was Djokovic who found more success, executing 13 winners and converting on six of eight points at the net.
Ferrer was clearly shaken up at the start of the second set, nearly falling behind by a break early on. But he would eventually recover and rally to hold serve. Leading by a set, Djokovic was content to hold serve and wait for his chances on return.
The turning point in the second set came in the all-important seventh game, when Ferrer connected on a brilliant passing shot on double break point to seize momentum and take control of the set, as pointed out by tennis enthusiast Matt Zemek:
After consolidating the break in the very next game, Ferrer would go on to serve out the set at 6-4, forcing a deciding set.
The set win was Ferrer's first against Djokovic since the 2012 U.S. Open semifinal.
Despite making a key breakthrough, a costly unforced error early in the final set temporarily derailed Ferrer, as he buried a pivotal shot into the net on Djokovic's serve and was then broken at love in the following game. But, determined to stick around, Ferrer reeled off four straight points in the following game to overcome a 30-0 deficit and break Djokovic right back, sparking a reaction from tennis analyst Darren Cahill:
The back-and-forth trend and high level of play would continue in the waning moments, as Djokovic broke Ferrer's serve for a fourth time in the match and won the final three games to secure a berth in Saturday's semifinal, where he'll take on eighth-seeded Milos Raonic.
Despite the Canadian's impressive run to the semifinals, Djokovic will be a heavy favorite to survive and advance to Sunday's tournament final.
Oddly enough, Djokovic and Raonic have never met on the ATP World Tour, with the Serb taking their only previous meeting in Davis Cup action last year. Nonetheless, this semifinal should belong to Djokovic, who appears well-rested after taking significant time off to recover from a wrist injury.
On top of that, the 2008 and 2011 Rome Masters champion is playing superb tennis, striking the backhand extremely well and moving freely on the challenging clay surface.
For Ferrer, the result is obviously disappointing, but he should be encouraged by his performance against a legitimate 2014 French Open contender in Djokovic. As a finalist at Roland Garros last year, Ferrer certainly won't be short on confidence as he gears up for another deep run in Paris later this month.
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