Novak Djokovic claimed his first Masters 1000 title on clay in Rome 2008. A year later, the Serb reached another semi-final at Foro Italico, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal standing between him and the title defense. In the quarters, Novak took down world no. 5 Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 37 minutes to set the semi-final clash against Federer, their first on clay in two years. Speaking about his upcoming challenge, Novak praised Roger as one of the finest clay-courters in the last four or five years, although he admitted that Nadal still stands as the most formidable rival on the slowest surface.
Djokovic played well against del Potro, reducing a teenager to eight winners and 30 unforced mistakes and breaking him thrice. They traded breaks in the opener’s games two and three, and del Potro suffered another at 1-2 to find himself 4-1 down following Djokovic’s forehand winner in game five. The Serb brought the seventh game home with a perfect half-volley winner and secured the set with an ace at 5-3. Juan Martin squandered two break chances in the second set’s fourth game and got broken in the next one to find himself 3-2 down.
Novak Djokovic faced both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Rome 2009.
In the sixth game, Djokovic forced a teenager’s error and held at 30 at 4-3 to remain in front and move closer to the finish line. The Argentine saved a match point on his serve in game nine with a service winner and blasted one from his forehand to bring the game home and reduce the deficit. Serving for the victory at 5-4, Novak seized the fourth match point when Juan Martin netted a forehand to reach the semis and set Roger Federer clash.
“If Roger Federer wins, I will have a chance against him in the semis. It’s a big challenge for both of us. I have been playing well lately, and I will have my opportunities. No one is easy to beat, but I think it’s tougher to play against Nadal than Federer on clay; there’s no question about that. Still, Roger is excellent on this surface, playing in a couple of Roland Garros finals, winning Hamburg Masters and reaching other finals. In the last four or five years, he has been the second-best player on clay behind Nadal,” Novak Djokovic said.