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Djokovic overwhelms Federer to set up Nadal final

ESPN staff
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Novak Djokovic was a man on a mission © PA Photos
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Defending champion Novak Djokovic booked a mouth-watering final with Rafael Nadal after overcoming a stubborn Roger Federer 6-2 7-6(4) at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

Djokovic, who also won in Rome in 2008, applied relentless pressure from the outset and Federer was simply unable to withstand the Serb's sustained attacks.

Meeting for the 25th time - with Federer leading the head-to-head 14-10 - the pair were locking horns for the first time since their five-set battle in the 2011 US Open semi-finals. Federer made an assured start, racing through his opening service game in two minutes, sealing his hold with a crushing forehand cross-court winner.

It quickly became apparent, however, that Djokovic would have the upper hand in the longer exchanges, the Serb showing astonishing movement on the red dirt to regularly turn defence into attack. It was not long before the world No. 1 saw some reward for his dominance, the five-time grand slam champion stepping inside the baseline and punishing a double-hander up the line to bring up two break points. And the pressure the top seed was exerting on his rival was plain to see as Federer strayed wide to hand the initiative to Djokovic.

Federer dug deep to stay with Djokovic but another chance to break arrived in the seventh game. Federer staved off the threat with a classy winner but Djokovic, resembling something of a playground bully, refused to give his opponent any cheap points and quickly carved out another opportunity, with Federer again failing to land a return in.

Serving for the set, Djokovic motored into a 40-0 lead but Federer somehow clawed his way back to deuce. However, Djokovic did not panic and, after forcing his opponent into another error, he was handed the set after Federer, who made 19 unforced errors in the opening set, went wide.

There was a scare at the start of the second for Federer but he saved a break point to escape unscathed. It was proving more and more difficult for the third seed to keep pace with Djokovic, the latter demonstrating his thirst for work by unloading brutal groundstrokes one after the other. Further errors from the Federer racket left the door ajar for Djokovic, and he needed no second invitation to push it wide open to break for 4-3. The writing appeared on the wall for Federer after a 90-second love-service game saw Djokovic move to within one game of the Rome Masters showpiece.

Federer, bidding to reach his 33rd ATP Masters 1000 final, was not done however and, having won the next game to force Djokovic to serve out the match, broke to the crowd's delight. Djokovic saw a match point come and go as Federer's brave forehand landed right on the line, and more resilience from the world No. 2 ensured his hopes of making a third Rome final were still alive.

With his tail now up, the Swiss maestro then held to love, before Djokovic forced a second-set tiebreak. An energy-sapping point went the way of Djokovic at the start of the tiebreak and the Serb quickly established a 3-0 cushion.

Federer, showing a survival instinct, cut the deficit to 3-2 with a driven backhand winner but Djokovic ramped up the pressure by crunching a forehand into the open court. And, although, Federer kept fighting, he was soon congratulating his rival at the net after another groundstroke went awry.

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