A highly anticipated semi-final clash in Rome proved once again it is one of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis.

In another classic meeting between two stars, top seed Rafael Nadal overcame Novak Djokovic 7-6 (4), 6-3 in their 51st encounter to reach the Italian Open final.

Rafa broke first, but Nole fought back and held to level at 5-5. The Spaniard took an epic first set in a tie-breaker 7-4. He used the momentum to break and take early lead in second set, and wrapped up the victory with another break in the final game.

Tennis lovers saw great signs from Novak this week, and especially today. The 11th seed and four-time former champion showed he is returning to best form, playing at high level again, delighting fans with brilliant points. The tight battle on Court Centrale lasted one hour and 56 minutes.

“It was a really good quality match. I enjoyed it,” Novak said. “I played four matches here and I didn’t expect anything coming into this tournament. I’m pleased with how I played the last three days, very pleased, and hopefully Roland Garros can be a continuation of this run.”

Match statistics: aces (4-1), double faults (0-2), winners (26-22), unforced errors (20-14), total points won (60-68).

Novak will next play at the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, the Roland Garros, taking place in Paris from May 27 to June 10.

Last year he lost to Dominic Thiem in quarter-final (6-7, 3-6, 0-6).

Djokovic won the 2016 French Open, completing the historic career Grand Slam.

Photo: AFP

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