Djokovic and Nadal banish surface tension

Leading pair forget their blue days in Madrid to roar into last four back on Rome's red clay

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The Independent Online

Normal service has been resumed. After last week's turmoil in Madrid, where Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal made early exits and said they would not return until the blue courts were torn up, the two men re-established their authority here yesterday on the reassuringly familiar red clay of the Foro Italico.

Djokovic took only 82 minutes to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world No 5, 7-5, 6-1 to earn a Rome Masters semi-final today against either Roger Federer or Andreas Seppi, who were meeting in last night's concluding quarter-final. Nadal needed more than two hours to find a way past Tomas Berdych but played some of his best tennis of the year to beat the world No 7 6-4, 7-5. He now meets David Ferrer, who beat Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray's conqueror, 7-6, 6-3, but has lost his last 11 meetings on clay with his fellow Spaniard.

Nadal, who is chasing his sixth title here in the last eight years, looked back to his best from the moment he broke Berdych in the opening game. Berdych has had a fine run on clay, having reached the semi-finals in Monte Carlo and the final in Madrid, but this was the Czech's 11th defeat in a row to Nadal on all surfaces. The Spaniard hit some stunning forehand winners down the line, served consistently and looked assured whenever he came into the net. The statistics told their own story: 34 winners, just 10 unforced errors and 77 per cent of first serves in court.

Djokovic, who is the only player other than Nadal to have won here since 2004, turned his quarter-final around when Tsonga served at 5-6 in the first set. The Frenchman recovered from 0-40 down to save three set points, but Djokovic was not to be denied. The second set was brutally short, with Tsonga winning just four points against serve.

Venus Williams' run in the women's competition ended when she was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by Maria Sharapova. Nevertheless the American is well on her way to securing her place in the Olympic tournament, which has been her aim ever since starting her comeback after a six-month break following her diagnosis with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease.

Williams is expected to climb at least 10 places next week from No 63 in the world ranking list, which would make her the third-ranked American behind her sister Serena and Christina McHale. Each country is allowed a maximum of four singles berths at the Olympics.

Serena Williams took her unbeaten run on clay to 17 matches after Flavia Pennetta retired with a wrist injury when trailing 4-0. In today's semi-finals Serena will face Li Na, the French Open champion, while Sharapova will meet the winner of last night's quarter-final between Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber.

Elena Baltacha reached the semi-finals of the Prague Open by beating Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova yesterday. The British No 1 now plays the No 2 seed, Klara Zakopalova, of the Czech Republic, who beat Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.