Former world No.1, Novak Djokovic is gradually recovering his form as he achieved a semifinal for the first time in 2018 by defeating Kei Nishikori 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia taking place in Rome.
Djokovic has fallen down the ranking table to 18th after elbow surgery in February while he sacked his main coach, Radek Stepanek ,in April.
“It means a lot to me to be able to play [in the] semi-finals of a tournament again. This is what I was looking forward to. This is what I was hoping to achieve.”
Djokovic holds a 26-24 edge in their head-to-heads and admitted it is always hard to beat Nadal, especially on clay. “Tomorrow [Saturday] is going to be the ultimate challenge on clay. Beating Rafa is a really difficult thing to do on this surface. But, I’ve done it before.”
Fognini threw a scare at Nadal
Meanwhile, Fabio Fognini threw a great scare at Nadai in the first quarter-final by clawing back a 1-4 deficit in the first set against Nadal to win 6-4, but that was how far he got. The Spaniard roared back, winning the next two sets 6-1 6-2 to set up a semifinal matchup against Djokovic.
Writing on Twitter after the victory, Nadal said, “Great crowds today playing the local hero. Many thanks, Rome for an amazing sportsmanship and respect for both.”
But Nadal is wary of Djokovic’s resurgence saying he would have preferred not to play him at all. “It’s better to not play him. He’s one of the best players in history, no doubt about it. I am not this kind of stupid guy that says, ‘No, I want to play [him]’.”
And Nadal is rightly concerned because the Serb has won three of their last four meetings on clay and seven of their past eight meetings.
The other semifinal will feature Alexander Zverev, Madrid Open winner against world No.5, Marin Cilic.