Djokovic Overcomes Nishikori In Rome
The four-time champion notched his 10th tour-level match win of 2018, winning 66 per cent of second-serve return points to defeat Nishikori in two hours and 21 minutes. Djokovic now moves into his first semi-final on the ATP World Tour since returning from a right elbow injury in January. The Serb's last semi-final appearance at a tour-level event came at the 2017 Nature Valley International.
"It means a lot to me to be able to play [in the] semi-finals of a tournament again," said Djokovic. "This is what I was looking forward to. This is what I was hoping to achieve."
Djokovic holds a 26-24 record against Nadal, with the pair locked at 3-3 in Rome. Nadal won their last encounter, snapping a seven-match losing streak against the Serb to reach the 2017 Mutua Madrid Open final.
Heading into Madrid last year, Djokovic had won each of their past seven encounters in straight sets. Djokovic is also responsible for 19 per cent of the Spaniard's 36 career losses on clay.
Nishikori wasted little time to earn the first break of the match, taking an immediate lead in the opening game after consecutive backhand errors from Djokovic. The Monte-Carlo finalist quickly established a double-break advantage four games later, with a well-executed drop shot setting up a simple forehand winner to move 4-1 ahead before clinching the first set.
"Today, the quality of tennis was really high," said Djokovic. "I mean, Kei was playing fantastic, especially in the first set... and it took me little bit of time to adjust to his pace."
Djokovic, competing in his first tour-level quarter-final this season, responded emphatically in the second set, dominating Nishikori’s serve. The 30-year-old won 71 per cent of return points (12/17), breaking in each of the 2016 semi-finalist’s three service games to take the match into a deciding set.
"I think I played great tennis in the first set, playing aggressive," said Nishikori. "I think he started to change his tactics [in the second set], and he was playing much better than [in the] first [set]."
After trading breaks early in the third set, it was Djokovic who made the decisive move in the seventh game. The 68-time tour-level titlist attacked the Nishikori backhand, firstly with an angled backhand return before extracting an error off an aggressive inside-out forehand to move 4-3 ahead. Djokovic then escaped from 0/30 and break point down in his following service game, painting the lines with daring forehand and backhand drives up the line before breaking, for the sixth time, to clinch victory.
"The third set was close, but I think he played a little better than me," admitted Nishikori.
"I'm really happy that I mentally stayed strong," reflected Djokovic. "In the ending of the third set I really fought and showed some resilience. This victory means a lot to me on different levels, mostly mental."
Did You Know?
Four-time champion Djokovic (2008, 2011, 2014-2015) holds an 87 per cent win rate at the Foro Italico, winning 46 of his 53 matches at the event.