Hello, and welcome to Sports Mole
's live coverage of the Rome Masters semi-final between Tomas Berdych
and Rafael Nadal
Today's encounter has the potential to be a terrific contest. Nadal will go into the match as the favourite, but Berdych has looked superb so far this week and he has the firepower to cause the Spaniard a few problems this afternoon.
After the conclusion of the women's semi-finals, I would estimate that this match will begin in around 15 minutes time. While we wait for the players to make their entrance, let's look back at how each player has performed so far this week.
Nadal eased past Fabio Fognini in his opening match, but he has struggled against Ernest Gulbis and David Ferrer. Gulbis has similar offensive weapons to that of Berdych so it will be intriguing to see whether Nadal can cope better than he did on Thursday afternoon.
Berdych came through his opening two matches in straight sets, getting the better of Denis Istomin and Kevin Anderson. He looked to be heading out of the tournament when he went a set down to Novak Djokovic but he produced a tremendous fightback to get the better of the world number one.
Berdych will be the man who comes into this encounter full of confidence, but the head-to-head record certainly isn't in his favour. Nadal has come out victorious in 13 of their 16 matches since 2005, winning all four of their matches on clay. Berdych has picked up just one set, which is something that he will need to change drastically if he is to progress through to the final.
We are now just moments away from the start of play in Rome. Another stat that isn't in Berdych's favour is that Nadal is chasing his seventh title in Rome.
The players are ready, and it is Berdych to serve first.
BREAK! Nadal goes long on the first point of the match after a lengthy exchange, before Berdych nets twice in succession. Nadal then fires a scintillating forehand past the advancing Czech, and another bullet of a shot hands the left-hander the early break.
Nadal has come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt. Two big forehands force Berdych to go wide, before a heavy topspin forehand produces another error. The world number five then crushes a winner off a weak return to wrap up the game.
You get the impression that Berdych is going to have to do a lot of running if he is to get anywhere this afternoon. The Czech player gets to 30-15, but Rafa is relentless. A strong serve out wide brings up game point, and he converts it at the second opportunity after overpowering Nadal from the back of the court.
Nadal eases into a 30-0 lead, before he appears to have the ball on a string as he moves Berdych around the court before firing a winner down the line. An unreturnable serve brings up the game.
BREAK! The key to Nadal's success so far is his impeccable length. Berdych is playing the majority of his tennis on the back foot, and even when he can advance to the net, Nadal is picking him off at will. A stunning crosscourt backhand brings up two more break points, but Berdych saves the first with a serve out wide. On the second - wow! Berdych fails to put away two smashes and Nadal makes him pay with another blistering winner. This is Nadal at his very, very best.
This is just too good for Berdych right now, but he isn't helping himself by making unforced errors. He allows Nadal a 30-0 start, which the left-hander maintains with another powerful forehand, and he moves one game away from the set with another winner.
At the end of that sixth game, Nadal was 17-3 up on points won from the baseline, which shows you his superiority so far. Berdych goes 30-0 up, but he is wrong-footed by an unreal return of serve from his opponent. The world number six comes forward to bring up two game points, and he remains competitive in the set when Nadal nets.
SET! I have a bit of sympathy for Berdych because he is giving it his all, but he just has no answer. Two forehand winners and an ace bring up three set points, and Berdych nets on the first to concede the set. That was one of the best sets of tennis that I have ever seen.
During that set, Nadal dropped just one point on serve, and conceded just 12 points in eight games. Berdych has it all to do...
Berdych appears to have tried to take a bit of pace off the ball, and it reaps rewards as he goes 30-0 up. A Nadal error and an ace down the centre of the court hands him the first game of the second set.
This is much better from Berdych, as he takes Nadal to 30-30 after the Spaniard nets a forehand. Rafa then goes long, and Berdych has his first break point, but he nets after some fine defensive work from Nadal. You sense that is a big opportunity miss by the 27-year-old and Nadal swiftly wraps up the game.
A giant tennis ball has appeared from out of nowhere, which brought a chuckle from the crowd - not so much from Berdych though! However, he responds with two aces to seize control of the game. Nadal gets a point on the board, but he then goes wide.
There isn't much variety with Nadal's game today, but who needs it when his forehand is so good? He crunches two more winners past Berdych to level the score at 2-2.
A lot of credit has to be given to Berdych. He could have rolled over, but he is beginning to look dominant on his serve. An ace brings up his third service hold in a row.
Nadal had began this set with a little less zip than he had in the first, but he has certainly got it back. He is whipping forehand winners from all parts of the court, and he flies through a love service game.
Berdych lands a forehand on the baseline to edge ahead, but a glaring miss makes it 15-15. The same occurs over the next two points, and Berdych is looking a bit more precarious at 30-30. Nadal is agonisingly close to bringing up break point, but he is inches wide with a backhand. The Spaniard gets a bit more luck on the next point, seeing the ball clip the net and drop over for deuce, but remarkably, Berdych gets his own back by doing the same thing on the next point! Nadal then nets after a broken string, and Berdych holds on.
Nadal is soon into a 30-0 lead, but Berdych replies by returning a Nadal smash on the way to leveling matters at 30-30. However, Berdych then goes a foot long, before netting off a Nadal second serve. Big game for Berdych coming up.
BREAK! Crisis time for Berdych as he sends a weak backhand into the net to concede a 0-30 deficit. Some magical play from Nadal ends with him drawing Berdych out wide before clipping the ball into the open court for three break points. There is no let-up from Rafa, and he forces Berdych to go long, and when he returns from the change of ends, he will be serving for the match.
RAFAEL NADAL BEATS TOMAS BERDYCH 6-2 6-4
The first exchange proves to be the point of the match. Nadal looks to be on top, but a stretching Berdych passes him at the net. Berdych then misses by inches with his next two shots, and Nadal is two points away. Two match points are brought up when Berdych goes wide, but the Czech keeps the match going with a great return. However, Nadal isn't to be denied as Berdych sends a return long.
That was a pretty special performance from Rafael Nadal, with the opening set especially being a display of sheer genius. Expect to see a highlight reel of those eight games in the near future.
Berdych was comprehensively beaten, but he only made four more unforced errors than his opponent, which proves the quality of Nadal's play. Remarkably, Nadal did not drop a point behind his second serve.
Nadal will now go on to face the winner of the match between Benoit Paire and Roger Federer, which takes place later tonight. Thank you for joining Sports Mole this afternoon and be sure to check back later for the second semi-final. Goodbye for now.