Sharapova ends Venus run, Serena sails into semis — ROME — Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal moved a step closer to another possible final showdown after recording straight-set wins in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters yesterday. 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 No 1 then ran away with the second set to set up a clash with either world No 2 Roger Federer or Andreas Seppi of Italy. "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."
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, celebrating with his arms above his head. "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 semifinals, 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 today 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."
On the distaff side, holder Maria Sharapova ended the encouraging run of Venus Williams to reach the semifinals, while Serena Williams enjoyed an easy passage through to the last four.
World No 2 Sharapova downed Venus 6-4, 6-3 in a high-quality encounter to set up a clash with either Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or Germany's Angelique Kerber.
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 6-1 7-6.
A break of serve at 4-4 in the first set proved to be the key for Sharapova as she served out and then moved ahead early in the second.
Venus got the break back but immediately handed Sharapova the advantage once more and this time the second seed held on to reach her fifth semifinal of the year.
However, Venus will be reassured by a rise in her ranking that should ensure she is included in the United States team for the London Olympics.
The American only returned to the tour in March after six months out having been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, which saps her energy.
For Serena, the extra time off was a relief after a hectic schedule during which she has won titles on clay in both Charleston and Madrid.
"It's never nice to go through like that but it is nice to have kind of a semi-day off," Serena said.
"I've been playing every day for I don't know how many days so it definitely helps."
Serena said she expected a tough match against Li, whom she has never played on clay.
Li let slip a 5-2 lead in the second set before beating Cibulkova, taking the second set tie-break 7-4.
Results (x denotes seeding): Men's singles (quarters): Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA x5) 7-5, 6-1; David Ferrer (ESP x6) bt Richard Gasquet (FRA x15) 7-6 (7/4), 6-3; Rafael Nadal (ESP x2) bt Tomas Berdych (CZE x7) 6-4, 7-5.
Women;s singles (quarters): Serena Williams (USA x9) bt Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 4-0 retired; Li Na (CHN x8) bt Dominika Cibulkova (SKK x14) 6-1, 7-6 (7/4); Maria Sharapova (RUS x2) bt Venus Williams (USA) 6-4, 6-3. — Reuters