Rafa Nadal overcame a first-set thrashing by Andy Murray to reach the semi-finals of the Italian Open with a 1-6 6-3 7-5 victory that kept him on course to meet rival Novak Djokovic in the final.
World number one and seven-times winner Nadal was a set down after only 37 minutes and trailed 4-2 in the decider, but kept his composure to book a last-four clash with rising talent Grigor Dimitrov.
Every win is special but this is a win that means a lot to me.
On the other side of the draw, Djokovic maintained his hopes of a third Rome Masters title and 19th Masters Series crown although he was forced to dig deep to beat a tenacious David Ferrer 7-5 4-6 6-3 in a high-quality quarter-final.
“Every win is special but this is a win that means a lot to me… I feel like I played as well as I have done for a while,” Nadal said.
Wimbledon champion Murray won the first five games in a blistering opening in which he limited Nadal to a handful of opportunities, including three wasted break points in the third game.
Yet Nadal came back strongly at the start of the second set, winning the first three games after Murray took a knock to his right knee stretching for a shot that hindered his movement around the court.
It looked as though it would be plain sailing from then on but Murray fought back to lead a pulsating final set, only for Nadal to break right back and take match with a burst of nine points in a row.
Vintage Djokovic display
Serbia’s Djokovic looked to be in full control when he led 5-2 in the opening set but Spaniard Ferrer fought back to 5-5 and although he lost the opener the tone was set for an intense duel.
Djokovic eventually prevailed on his second match point having double-faulted on his first, the point in between being a 38-stroke baseline rally of extraordinary quality.
Djokovic will face Milos Raonic in the semi-finals after the Canadian beat Roger Federer’s conqueror Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
Williams destroys Zhang
In the women’s event, top seed Serena Williams breezed past Shuai Zhang 6-1 6-3 in a one-sided contest.
The American roared out of the traps, winning five games in a row and crushing any chance of resistance from the Chinese.
Williams will get the chance to avenge her Australian Open defeat to Ana Ivanovic in the semis after the Serbian 11th seed followed up her impressive win over Maria Sharapova with a thrilling 6-4 3-6 6-4 win over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.