March 7, 2014
Nadal keeps top ranking after making Rome semis
Rafa Nadal made sure of retaining his world number one status at the French Open after cruising past Croat Marin Cilic 6-1 6-3 in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters.
Nadal showed no signs of the fever that had brought him to the brink of pulling out on Thursday in a typically clinical display, hammering the world number 23 to set up a semi-final against Richard Gasquet.
Second seed Djokovic stretched his unbeaten run for the year to 35 matches after dispatching fifth-seed Soderling 6-3 6-0. The Serb will meet Andy Murray, who became the first British player in the tournament's professional era to reach the final four after outlasting unseeded German Florian Mayer 1-6 6-1 6-1.
Champion for five of the past six years, Nadal raced into a 4-0 lead, breaking Cilic's serve with a ferocious forehand topspinner and backhand crosscourt before taking the first set.
The Croat, who had won one of his previous two meetings against Nadal, stayed with the Spaniard until the seventh game of the second set when the top seed moved up an extra gear to break twice more, bringing his overall win-loss run in Rome to 30-1.
"I started the match with intensity and played aggressively," said Nadal. "I was running faster and when you move your legs faster, the shots come more easily. I played better but if you want to win a tournament, you have to play well every day."
Nadal said his health was improving.
"I was lucky. I felt much better today," he said. "Yesterday afternoon I had fever but it improved at the end of the day. I still had a bit of fever this morning but it was fine before the match."
After losing his opening service game against Soderling, Djokovic stormed back, making the decisive break in the eighth game with a screaming crosscourt backhand to take the set.
The second set was an ordeal for the big Swede as Djokovic moved him around the court with a combination of dainty dropshots and flashing strokes to win the set to love.
Murray began his match with Mayer in ragged fashion, dropping the first set before storming to victory against the world number 27 having never got beyond the third round in six previous visits.
"It's nice to do well here but now I want to go further," said Murray.
"It will be great to play Novak. He's playing really well though I haven't seen him play this week. I won't be able to get away with playing the way I did in the first set.
"I felt I was rushing, so I had to back off which made the rallies a lot longer. I had to release some emotion. I was getting myself pumped up.
"I feel good on clay but have to make sure I practise enough before the clay court season begins," he added. "To be number one, I need to improve on this surface to be among the Rogers, Rafas and Novaks."
Gasquet followed up his third-round defeat of Roger Federer by knocking out seventh-seed Tomas Berdych 4-6 6-2 6-4.