World number one Novak Djokovic saved two match points to advance to the semi-finals of the Italian Open on Friday with a thrilling three-set win over former US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro.
Djokovic, winner in Madrid Open last weekend, saved two match points in the second set tie-break before winning through 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 in just over three hours serving an ace on his first match point.
The 31-year-old, who holds 15 grand slams next plays Argentine Diego Schwartzman for a place in the final as he targets a fifth Italian Open title and first since 2015.
Schwartzman eliminated Japanese sixth seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals.
“I had luck in the decisive moments in the second set tiebreak,” said the 31-year-old Djokovic.
“Towards the end of the first set he just started hitting the ball really well from both corners.
“Also backhand side, backhand down the line. He was playing really well. Gave me a lot of trouble. But I never lost faith,” the four-time Rome winner said.
“I’m just really pleased to overcome.”
Del Potro had pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami with a knee injury, but matched Madrid Open winner Djokovic shot for shot, wrapping up the first set 6-4 in just over an hour.
The world number nine received treatment on a bloodied big toe after Djokovic levelled one-set all.
But he kept up the pressure with Djokovic again needing to save three break points on his serve in the fourth game of the final set before breaking for 3-2 as the momentum swung his way.
In another quarter-final, eight-time Rome champion Nadal eased through 6-4, 6-0 against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco to set up a rematch with Greek rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the final.
Tsitsipas advanced after Federer — returning to clay after a two-year absence — retired with a right leg injury before their game.
For 32-year-old Nadal it is his fourth straight semi-final on clay this season, but he has not managed to go further before his bid for a 12th French Open title at Roland Garros.
Tsitsipas stunned Nadal in last week’s Madrid Open semi-finals before falling to Djokovic, but lost to the Spaniard in the Australian Open semis earlier this year.
“After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I’m going to try to do it better tomorrow,” said 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal.