Tennis: After feeling blue, Nadal back to winning ways

By Paul Newman

Normal service has been resumed.

After last week's turmoil in Madrid, where Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal made early exits and said they would not return until the blue courts were torn up, the two men re-established their authority in Rome yesterday on the reassuringly familiar red clay of the Foro Italico.

Djokovic took only 82 minutes to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world No 5, 7-5 6-1 to earn a Rome Masters semifinal against Roger Federer. Nadal needed more than two hours to find a way past Tomas Berdych but played some of his best tennis of the year to beat the world No 7 6-4 7-5.

He now meets David Ferrer, who beat Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray's conqueror, 7-6 6-3 but has lost his last 11 meetings on clay with his fellow Spaniard.

Nadal, who is chasing his sixth title here in the last eight years, looked back to his best from the moment he broke Berdych in the opening game.

The Spaniard hit some stunning forehand winners down the line, served consistently and looked assured whenever he came into the net.

Djokovic, the only player other than Nadal to have won here since 2004, turned his quarter-final around when Tsonga served at 5-6 in the first set.

The Frenchman recovered from 0-40 down to save three set points, but Djokovic was not to be denied.

The second set was brutally short, with Tsonga winning just four points against serve.

Venus Williams' run in the women's competition ended when she was beaten 6-4 6-3 by Maria Sharapova. Nevertheless the American is on her way to securing her place at the Olympics. Williams is expected to climb at least 10 places next week from No 63 in the world ranking list, which would make her the third-ranked American behind her sister Serena and Christina McHale. Each country is allowed a maximum of four singles berths at the Olympics.

Meanwhile, Murray will go into the French Open next weekend hoping a back injury will not harm his chances at this year's second Grand Slam tournament. The 25-year-old Scot revealed after his defeat by Gasquet that he has been suffering with a back problem for six months.

"My back was a little bit sore towards the end, but I was expecting that coming into the tournament," Murray said, having had to withdraw from last week's Madrid Masters because of the injury. "I've had it a while, since December. Obviously since then there hasn't been that much time to take an extended break.

"You try to take one at the right moment. With the French Open, Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open there's not much time to take a rest. Obviously now is the best time to do it, so hopefully by the time the French Open comes around I'll be in peak condition"

Murray has brushed aside Frenchmen in recent years - he had won 40 of his previous 41 matches against French opponents - and in Gasquet was facing an opponent whose mental and physical strength have often been called into question. Murray had twice beaten him in Grand Slam tournaments after losing the first two sets.

This time, however, it was the world No 22 who finished the stronger and played the big points particularly well. The Independent

- Herald on Sunday

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