Italian Open: Novak Djokovic to play Rafael Nadal in final

Novak Djokovic in semi-final action at the Italian Open
Djokovic won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015

World number one Novak Djokovic set up an intriguing final with Rafael Nadal after a 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-3 victory over Diego Schwartzman at the Italian Open.

Djokovic, who saved two match points in his quarter-final win over Juan Martin del Potro, beat a spirited Schwartzman in Rome in two hours 31 minutes.

Defending champion Nadal reached his 50th Masters 1000 final with a 6-3 6-4 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

His majestic forehand dominated as he won in one hour 42 minutes.

Djokovic's win in three hours one minute over Del Potro had finished at 1.05am local time on Saturday morning and his evening semi-final provided another stern test against another Argentine, Schwartzman, who played a series of impressive drop shots.

The Serb had won their two previous meetings, the last of which was at Roland Garros in 2017, and he claimed the first break in the seventh game when Schwartzman netted a forehand.

But having lost the opening set in 36 minutes, Schwartzman, in his first Masters 1000 semi-final, kept in contention and a superb backhand down the line gave him a break in the fifth game of the second set.

It was the first of four successive breaks in a fluctuating set that went to a tie-break, which Schwartzman, winner of two ATP titles, quickly took control of.

Djokovic, 31, seized the key break in the sixth game of the decider to reach his ninth Italian final as he bids to repeat last week's victory at the Madrid Open.

He leads 28-25 in his duel with Nadal that began in 2006, winning their most recent encounter in the first Grand Slam of this year, the Australian Open in January, but the Spaniard has dominated their clay court matches 16-7.

Rafael Nadal at the Italian Open
Nadal is bidding for a ninth Italian Open title

Nadal, 32, had lost in the semi-finals of his last four tournaments, including a defeat against Tsitsipas last weekend in Madrid.

It is his first clay court final of the year and he will look to continue a fine record in the Masters 1,000 Series.

Since 2005, the Spaniard has won at least one of the nine events in the calendar every year except 2015.

In overcast, breezy conditions in the Italian capital, Nadal built a 3-0 lead and took the opening set in 49 minutes.

He continued to work the athletic Tsitsipas, who won this month's Estoril Open and lost in the Madrid final to Djokovic last week, with some typically stylish, precise groundstokes into the corners.

Tsitsipas, who moved into the last four by virtue of Roger Federer's withdrawal through injury, had not dropped a set in the tournament and was seeking a fifth final this season, which would have taken him to fifth in the world rankings.

But Nadal was in masterful form and recorded his fourth win in five matches against the powerful world number seven.