ROME • The 51st meeting between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic had been dubbed a royal meeting between two of tennis' heavyweights despite the latter's struggles since his elbow injury last year.
And while Nadal closed in on an eighth Rome Masters title after dismissing his old rival 7-6(7-4), 6-3 yesterday to reach today's final for a record-extending 10th time, the Serb will have been pleased to rediscover his form.
The last-four success will also gives Nadal added confidence ahead of the French Open, where he has won a record 10 titles.
The Spaniard, still unbeaten in semi-finals at the Foro Italico, unleashed a trademark clay-court attack after winning a tight first set lasting well over an hour.
"I need to be able to play my best tomorrow," the top seed said of the final against either defending champion Alexander Zverev of Germany or Croatia's Marin Cilic.
"I'm very happy with my game. It all worked for me, the tactics, the shots.
"It was a tough match, of course, playing against him (Djokovic) is always a big challenge. He played well, and it's always the same against him; when you go down a little bit in level, he is always there and you are in big trouble."
The world No. 2 cut the deficit in his head-to-head series with Djokovic to 26-25 in their first encounter since last May's Madrid Masters.
But Djokovic complained afterwards about poor scheduling which affected his preparation, having played a late-afternoon quarter-final on Friday before returning to court yesterday mid-afternoon.
"I don't want to seem like I'm complaining about losing the match because of the schedule. But having to end at night and coming back to play early in the day affects a lot," he said.
"Nobody has ever, ever reached me in my entire career to ask me about what I think would be the best scheduling. I don't think that is fair, we will address it in the next players' council."
Nadal now stands 10-8 over Djokovic in semi-finals, with the pair having played each other at all four Grand Slam tournaments, the ATP Finals, Davis Cup, the Olympic Games along with eight of the nine Masters 1000 events.
Nadal took 73 minutes to win the opening set and, after taking a 2-1 lead in the second set with another break of Djokovic, he never lost control.
In the women's draw, holder Elina Svitolina dominated Anett Kontaveit 6-4, 6-3 in their first meeting yesterday to reach a second straight Rome final.
In today's final, the world No. 4 will meet the winner of the other semi-final between Maria Sharapova and top seed Simona Halep.
ATP ITALIAN OPEN
Final: StarHub Ch203, 10pm