|Rafael Nadal of Spain serves to his compatriot Feliciano Lopez during their match at the Rome Masters on May 12, 2011. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
ROME - Two-time reigning champion Rafael Nadal was an easy quarterfinal winner, while sizzling Serb Novak Djokovic won his 37th straight match Friday at the $3.285 million Italian Masters, the final ATP Masters event before the French Open.
The world No. 1 Nadal blew past Croat Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-3 in 1 hour, 25 minutes on the red clay at Foro Italico, while the second-seeded Djokovic won Friday's nightcap with a 6-3, 6-0 beatdown of fifth-seeded two-time French Open runner-up Robin Soderling. The Australian Open champion Djokovic is now 35-0 this year and hasn't lost a match since December. He's already captured six titles this year, including a trio of Masters ones. The Serb topped Nadal in the Madrid Masters final last week.
Djokovic downed Soderling in 76 minutes and closed out the match by winning the last 15 points to improve to 6-1 lifetime, including 2-0 on clay, against the Swedish slugger.
Up next for Djokovic will be British star Andy Murray, who succumbed to the super Serb in January's Aussie Open finale.
Meanwhile, by beating Cilic on Friday, Nadal, who almost pulled out of the draw here on Thursday because of a virus, is assured of maintaining his No. 1 ranking for at least another week. Had he lost to Cilic, the high-flying Djokovic could have reached the top of the rankings with a title this week.
Nadal jumped out to a 5-0 lead en route to winning the first set on Friday, and was tied with Cilic at 3-3 in the second when the Spaniard broke for a 4-3 lead.
The nine-time major champion Nadal has won 40 of his last 41 matches on clay. He had won 37 straight on the dirt before losing to Djokovic in last week's marquee Madrid finale. Nadal has lost to Djokovic in three Masters finals already this year, but is still the all-time leader with a whopping 18 Masters championships.
The 24-year-old Nadal is looking to win the Italian Masters title for a sixth time, having also triumphed here from 2005-2007 in addition to his 2009 and 2010 wins. The Spanish strongman owns a brilliant 30-1 lifetime record at Foro Italico, including a victory over David Ferrer in last year's all-Spanish finale.
Up next for the reigning U.S. Open, Wimbledon and French Open champion Nadal will be nifty Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who stunned former world No. 1 great Roger Federer here on Thursday. Nadal is a perfect 8-0 lifetime against Gasquet, including a 4-0 mark on clay.
The fourth-seeded Murray reached his first-ever Rome semifinal by coming from behind to best capable German Florian Mayer 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 on Day 6. Murray is now also the first British player in the Open Era to land in the final four in Rome.
The last British man to reach the semifinals in Rome was George Hughes in 1932. Hughes was the only British male to win the event, in 1931.
Murray will meet Djokovic for a ninth time, with the Serb holding a 5-3 lifetime advantage, including a 1-0 mark on clay.
The aforementioned 16th-seeded Gasquet posted another upset by ousting seventh-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in 2 hours, 18 minutes. Berdych was last year's Wimbledon runner-up to Nadal.
This week's champion will claim $438,000.