Unstoppable Nadal storms to 75th straight clay win


Rome : Rafael Nadal continued his two-year rampage on European clay, clocking his 75th straight win over the surface to blast into the semi-finals of the Rome Masters.

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The two-time French Open champion Friday dismantled fifth seeded Serb Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-3 in one hour, 40 minutes to move to within two more wins of a title record at the Foro Italico.

"I played well, it was much tougher than the score looked," said Nadal, who has won 12 titles during his unbeaten run. "I had to play my best tennis to win in straight sets.

"He was returning well."

Should he lift another trophy Sunday, Nadal would join Austrian Thomas Muster as the event's only other three-time winner. His three straight would be the first hat-trick on the trot after winning in 2005 and 2006.

Nadal will test himself Saturday against fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko, who reached his first Rome semi-final with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 quarter-final comeback over Spain's Tommy Robredo.

He becomes the first Russian into the last four in Rome since Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 2003.

Wild card Filippo Volandri made local history, defeating 12th seed Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-3 to become the first Italian into the semi-finals at home in nearly three decades.

A day after stunning Roger Federer, the 53rd-ranked Volandri raised the stakes in his improbable run of form.

"We wrote another page in history today," said the delighted winner, who becomes the first home player to advance this far since Adriano Panatta in 1978.

"But I'm still trying to come to grips with my win over Roger. I can only just play match by match now."

The upset took just 63 minutes, with Volandri set for a Saturday showdown against either sixth seed Fernando Gonzalez or Argentine Juan Chela.

"This was another big win, another perfect match from start to finish," said Volandri. "I couldn't miss a shot, everything was going in."

Davydenko, the most anonymous of the ATP Top ten, said he could feel Robredo decelerating after a rapid-fire first-set sweep.

"He was tired after the first set," said the winner. "I could see that he wasn't running so much in the second set.

"Robredo made no mistakes in the first set, I just had no chance. I had to hang in."

Davydenko will next face holder Nadal, who own their only meeting in Shanghai last November.

He earned victory in two hours, 15 minutes despite 50 unforced errors. He now stands 4-1 in that series.

Davydenko said his first Rome semi-final is an important step.

"It's important for me to play well and feel great during the clay season. I need the confidence to play the longer matches.

"I need to stay in 100 per cent fit conditions, every match will be tough from now on.

"Nadal has 200 per cent confidence now that he's onto 'his' surface."