Rome Masters to host 30th Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer clash
World number three Roger Federer and Spanish nemesis Rafael Nadal will clash for the 30th time when they meet Sunday in the final of the Rome Masters.
Six-time Rome champion Nadal booked his place in his eighth successive final this season after dominating Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-4.
Federer’s semi-final was against French upstart Benoit Paire, who had accounted for Marcel Granollers and Juan Martin Del Potro on his way to an unexpected place in the last four.
Despite being taken to a first set tie-break that “could have gone either way”, according to Federer, the Swiss sealed the win in 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 to set up his first final with Nadal since the Spaniard’s French Open victory in 2011.
With Nadal only returning to the tour this year following a seven-month lay-off, Federer admitted: “I missed him more when he is not around for seven months.
“There are also other players out there who have beaten us - (Novak) Djokovic and (Andy) Murray - and sometimes we have been drawn in the same section and so we haven’t played each other.
“But it’s nice to have those revival moments because we’ve had some epic finals. I’m sure we’re both looking forward to it. I clearly am, I hope he is too.”
Berdych had caused the first major upset of the tournament when he ousted world number one Novak Djokovic on Friday.
But despite an improved second set performance against the fifth seed, the Czech could not match Nadal’s power as the Spaniard put himself within touch of a second title inside a week following his Madrid Masters triumph last Sunday.
Nadal admitted he was “very tired” after being pushed to three-set matches on his way to the semis.
But the Spaniard sent his rivals a veiled warning when he said this display was the best he had produced since his comeback.
“I think I did almost everything well,” said Nadal.
“Changing direction, playing inside the court, going to the net when I had the chance.
“I am very happy about the way I played. I played one of my best matches since I came back, that’s my feeling.”
Going on his performance, the statistics say Nadal will be hard to beat on Sunday -- after 29 meetings he leads Federer 19-10, with 12 of those wins coming on clay.
Federer admitted: “Rafa is a tough player for me to play against, especially on clay.
“On clay we know he wins 95 per cent of his matches, but I like the challenge of playing against him and I’m happy I get another opportunity tomorrow.”
Nadal has now reached eight finals in as many events since his return from his seven-month injury lay-off, collecting five titles in the process.
Berdych indicated that Nadal’s lighning-fast start and his unrivalled game on the red clay had left him with a mountain to climb.
“He starts really well and, of course, it’s Rafa and we know how he plays on clay,” said Berdych.
“It was a good start for him. Yesterday I had one chance that I did take and I won, and today I had one chance that I didn’t take and I lost.”
It has left Nadal looking for a 24th Masters title on Sunday.
But given his absence, the Spaniard added: “Eight finals in a row is more than a dream for me. Five months ago it was completely impossible to think about something like this.
“Tomorrow I hope to play very well. If I win it will be fantastic, but if I lose it will be okay as well.”
Paire, meanwhile, was “a litle disappointed” with his display.
“I didn’t have a great match... I didn’t take my opportunities and I made more mistakes than I did against Del Potro,” said the 24-year-old. “I feel I really could have done better.”
However he was given a boost by Federer, who said: “He reminds me of myself when I was a little younger.”
Paire added: “Roger said some nice things to me about my game. Now it’s up to me to try and show what I am capable of.”