ROME -- A week after Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal made early exits in Madrid on an experimental blue court, both showed they remain a force on red clay Friday by reaching the Italian Open semifinals.
"In the second set I played one of the best sets on clay this year, and this is encouraging for the challenges to come tomorrow and with Roland Garros," Djokovic said. "I am playing and feeling better every match I play."
Nadal was equally pleased.
"It was a big match and one of the higher quality matches this year because the level of the opponent is high and he plays with big confidence and I played under pressure all the time," he said. "I hit a few fantastic shots, and this kind of shot comes with confidence."
While Djokovic has not been dominating as he did last year, the Serb still finds a way to win without playing his best. Serving at 5-5 in the first set, he saved a potentially decisive break point with an authoritative serve and volley. Then he took six straight points.
"I really don't compare with 2011," Djokovic said. "This is a new year and I had great results so far in and I'm playing good in Rome so far. I'm increasing the level as the tournament goes on, and this is important."
Down to No. 3 in the world rankings this week, Nadal broke in the opening game to take control of the first set. He recovered a break midway through the second set before pulling ahead for good. Berdych was coming off a runner-up performance at the Madrid Open. He lost to Federer, who then replaced Nadal at No. 2.
Federer never had lost to Seppi, and the 16-time Grand Slam winner took just 19 minutes to win the opening set. Seppi then pleased the partisan crowd by taking the opening game of the second. He had two break points in the next game, but Federer stormed back. The Swiss star closed the match when Seppi failed to return a serve.