Nadal struggles past Ferrer to reach Rome semis

Rome, May 17 (EFE).- Spain's Rafael Nadal got all he could handle Friday from countryman David Ferrer in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters, but he managed to pull away in the third set for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory.

Nadal took an early lead with a service break in the fifth game and hung on to take the first set 6-4 despite not playing his best tennis.

Then, after he squandered a couple of break points early in the second set, Ferrer started dictating the points and finishing them off consistently with forehand or volley winners.

The world No. 4 took a 4-0 lead and it briefly appeared that he might have the form to pull off a major upset.

Although Nadal battled back and served to tie the score at 5-5, Ferrer took the set on a phenomenal point in which he made several improbable gets before knocking a forehand passing shot into the open court.

But the world No. 5 started hitting out more aggressively with his forehand in the third set to grab the momentum back and take the match in a grueling two hours and 46 minutes.

In the post-match press conference, Nadal was full of praise for his 31-year-old countryman, who has pushed the 11-time Grand Slam champion to three sets twice this clay-court season.

"I played a great match against a difficult opponent. In the worst moment in the third set, I played my best tennis and I am happy," Nadal said. "He is a fantastic player and a big example for the kids (on being) positive, fighting and correct on the court. This victory for me is very special."

With the win, the defending champion kept alive his hopes for a seventh Rome title.

Next up for the Spaniard in Saturday's semifinals will be Czech Tomas Berdych, who came back from a 2-6, 2-5 deficit to stun world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.

The other men's semifinal will pit France's Benoit Paire against either second seed Roger Federer of Switzerland or Poland's Jerzy Janowicz.

In the women's draw, American world No. 1 Serena Williams continued to romp through the draw, crushing Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-0 in Friday's quarterfinals.

She will next play Romanian Simona Halep, who rallied for a 4-6, 6-0, 7-5 victory over Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, in Saturday's first semifinal.

Russian world No. 2 Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, withdrew due to illness prior to her quarterfinal match against Italy's Sara Errani, who will square off against Belarusian Victoria Azarenka - a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 winner Friday over Australia's Samantha Stosur - in the second semifinal.

The Rome event is one of the biggest clay-court tournaments on the ATP and WTA calendars and a key tune-up for the French Open, which gets underway on May 26.