Rome, Italy – Czech slugger Tomas Berdych came from way behind to upset two-time champion Novak Djokovic, while six-time winner Rafael Nadal pulled out a quarterfinal victory Friday at the $3.475 million Italian Masters tennis event.
The sixth-seeded former Wimbledon runner-up Berdych eventually outmuscled the world No. 1 Djokovic for a stunning 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 decision in 2 hours, 22 minutes on the red clay at Foro Italico. Berdych overcame a 2-6, 2-5 deficit to advance and beat Djokovic for the first time in three years, snapping an 11-match losing streak against the formidable Serb.
The fifth-seeded former No. 1 Nadal, meanwhile, needed all three sets to sneak past fourth-seeded fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 on Day 6. Ferrer had match points against Nadal last week in Madrid, but lost that quarterfinal match as Nadal went on to title on home soil.
Berdych was dominated by Djokovic for the first half of their 15th meeting on Friday and did not create his first break-point chance until the Serb was serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set. Having trailed 2-5, Berdych reeled off five straight games to level the match. He then broke Djokovic in the third game of the third set to put himself on the path to victory. Berdych surrendered a 40-love lead when serving for the match, but converted his fourth match point.
"I lost concentration and started to play more defensively," lamented Djokovic. "[I played] a bad game at 5-3 and I made some unforced errors. At this level you have to take advantage of the opportunities and I lost this game by myself."
Berdych is now 2-13 lifetime against the mighty Djokovic.
Djokovic was the Rome titlist in 2008 and 2011 and lost to Nadal in last year's final, after topping Nadal in the final here in '11. The Serbian star had played in the Rome final in four of the last five years.
The Australian Open champion Djokovic was a second-round loser against promising Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov last week in Madrid.
The 6-foot-5 Berdych will now appear in his third Masters semifinal of the year.
Nadal improved to 19-4 lifetime against his good friend Ferrer, including wins in their last 13 matchups on clay.
The 26-year-old star is now riding a 13-match overall winning streak and seeking a third title in three events. Last week's Madrid Masters champ has played in seven finals in as many tournaments in 2013 and already piled up five titles since returning from a seven-month injury layoff back in February.
Nadal is the all-time leader with 23 Masters titles.
As a result of beating Ferrer on Friday, should Nadal win the title in Rome, he would overtake Ferrer at No. 4 in the rankings and therefore be seeded fourth at Roland Garros, where he's a seven-time champion.
Nadal will battle Berdych on Saturday. The Spanish star is 13-3 lifetime against the big Czech, including a perfect 4-0 mark on clay. Nadal beat Berdych in the quarters here in Rome last year.
Another Friday quarterfinal result saw talented Frenchman Benoit Paire maul helpless Spaniard Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-0, as Paire secured his first-ever semifinal berth in an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.
This week's big winner will earn $650,000.