Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal moved a step closer to another possible final showdown after recording straight-set wins in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters.
Holder and top seed Djokovic survived a tight first set to beat Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-1, while Nadal, striking the ball better than he has done in months, recorded an impressive 6-4, 7-5 victory over in-form Czech Tomas Berdych.
Djokovic and Tsonga exchanged two service breaks apiece to reach 5-5, but the Serb clinched the opening set when the fifth seed served his first double fault.
The world number one then ran away with the second set to set up a clash with second-ranked Roger Federer, who demolished Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-1, 6-2.
"The second set was the best I have played this week," Djokovic said.
"I don't like to compare how I am playing to last year, but I am very happy with my game," he added before considering his first meeting with Federer since he saved two match points to beat him in the semi-finals at last year's US Open.
"Obviously there are no secrets between us, we have played many big matches over the last four or five years. But I believe I am ready and I will go on court with the right attitude and hopefully play well."
Nadal, who slipped behind Federer in the rankings after the Swiss won the Madrid title last weekend, produced an outstanding performance to beat seventh seed Berdych.
The Spaniard - chasing a sixth title in Rome - came from a break down in the second set to clinch victory.
"I played one of my best matches of the year today," Nadal told a news conference.
"Tomas is a player with a lot of confidence and playing very well, so I am very happy with how I played.
"I did one fantastic thing, in my opinion. I stepped inside the court a lot, with my forehand and my movements were fantastic."
In the semi-finals, Nadal will meet fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, who edged out Richard Gasquet of France 7-6, 6-3.
Nadal beat Ferrer to win the title in Barcelona last month but said he would need to play better on Saturday if he is to make the final.
"I was a little bit lucky in some moments in Barcelona," he said. "I didn't play my best tennis that day.
"I know I can play better than that and I will have to play my best tennis against David because he is a great player.
"But I am very happy with the way I am playing and the way I have played the whole clay court season."
In the women's draw, Maria Sharapova ended the encouraging run of Venus Williams to reach the semi-finals, but Serena Williams enjoyed an easy passage through to the last four.
World number two Sharapova downed Venus 6-4, 6-3 in a high-quality encounter to set up a clash with Germany's Angelique Kerber who upset Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 7-6, 1-6, 6-1.
Serena was leading Flavia Pennetta 4-0, 40-0 when the Italian retired with a right wrist injury. She will play China's Li Na who beat Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 7-6.
ReutersTags: tennis, sport, italy First posted May 19, 2012 08:36:38