World number one Novak Djokovic will renew his longtime rivalry with Spaniard Rafael Nadal, as the two square off for their 54th meeting at the Italian Open final on Sunday.
Djokovic had to dig deep on Saturday to reach his ninth championship match in Rome, defeating Argentine Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3.
The Serbian triumphed in last week’s Madrid Open and has a chance to win back-to-back clay-court titles after overcoming the spirited Schwartzman in two hours and 31 minutes.
Second seed and defending champion Nadal progressed to his 50th Masters 1000 final thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 win over Greek youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas, avenging his defeat to the 20-year-old at the same stage as a week ago in Madrid.
“It’s an important victory for me because I played a solid match against a good player and a player who is winning lot of matches on this surface,” Nadal said.
“Winning in straight sets against him is a very positive result. More than this is a feeling that I am playing better every week, every day. That’s important for me.”
The win keeps Nadal in the hunt for a ninth Italian Open title after he lost at the semi-final stages of his last four tournaments.
Djokovic leads his head-to-head with Nadal by 28 wins to 25, but the Spaniard has dominated on clay with 16 victories to the Serbian’s seven.
The pair last met at the final of the Australian Open in January, when Djokovic triumphed in straight sets to lift his 15th Grand Slam title.
“He’s my greatest rival of all time, for sure,” said Djokovic. “I’ve had so many matches against him. We have the longest rivalry of tennis of all time. Every time we get to play each other, it’s a thrill. It’s the ultimate challenge.”
On the women’s side, British number one Johanna Konta came from a set behind to beat Madrid Open champion Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 and progress to her first WTA Premier clay final.
She will face world number seven Karolina Pliskova, who defeated Greece’s Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4.
French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam, will get under way in Paris later this month.
Al Jazeera and news agencies