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Thomas Berdych makes Novak Djokovic suffer on clay once more


Novak Djokovic says the French Open is his biggest target this year but the world No 1 will go to Roland Garros next week having made early exits from his last two build-up tournaments on clay.

Having lost to Grigor Dimitrov in his opening match in Madrid last week, the 25-year-old Serb went out in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters here yesterday when he was beaten 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 by Tomas Berdych. It was only his second defeat in 15 matches against the world No 6.

Djokovic had been at the top of his form for a set and a half, but from 5-2 and 30-15 up in the second set he lost his focus and Berdych quickly took control. As Djokovic’s level dipped, Berdych won five games in a row to take the second set. The Czech made the only break in the decider in the third game, eventually serving out for victory with an ace after two hours and 22 minutes.

“I was playing very well and was two points from winning but after that the match changed completely,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I was a different player from that moment. I lost concentration. I started playing more defensively, played a bad game at 5-3 and the match turned around.

“He gained confidence. He started to step into the court, I made some unforced errors and there you go. At this level you have to use the opportunities when they’re presented to you. I haven’t done that and I lost this match by myself.”

Djokovic needs to win the French Open, which starts a week tomorrow, to complete his set of Grand Slam titles. “I’m positive I’ll continue playing better and better as the days go by,” he said. “I will take some time off now and try to get ready for Paris. It’s the most important event of the year for me.”

In today’s semi-finals Berdych will play the winner of yesterday’s later match between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. Roger Federer and Jerzy Janowicz were meeting in last night’s concluding quarter-final, the winner to face France’s Benoît Paire.

Serena Williams won her 22nd match in succession – the longest winning run of her career – when she beat Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-0 to earn a semi-final against Romania’s Simona Halep. In the other half of the draw Victoria Azarenka was facing Sam Stosur last night for the right to play Sara Errani, who had a walkover after Maria Sharapova pulled out with illness.