With eight-time victor Nadal breezing past Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 6-4 to claim the first final spot, Djokovic started strongly, despatching some typically composed shots to wrap up the first set, capping it off with a wonderful drop-shot in the final game following a terrific rally. "I have the greatest respect for him". "Just overall, I was lacking a little bit more of a dynamic movement, kind of attacking the ball".
That Djokovic fought back in the second like his life depended on it in the second may prove to be significant, as this might otherwise have been a very deflating episode as he seeks a fourth straight Grand Slam win. "But I never lost faith", the four-time Rome victor said. I was just running out of fuel a little bit today.
Nadal got off to a flying start by whitewashing a shellshocked Djokovic in the opening set.
This week, Rafael Nadal sent a clear and unmistakable message to the tennis world that he is still the one and the only true King of Clay.
In the second set, Pliskova used a swinging forehand volley putaway to break for a 4-3 lead and never looked back.
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Schwartzman - buoyed by his 6-4 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori in the last eight - responded well, though, breaking serve twice to force, and subsequently win, the tie-break.
Since 2005, Nadal has won at least one of the nine Masters 1,000 events in a season every year except 2015.
Nadal overtakes Djokovic at the top of the list for Masters wins - the pair were level at 33 each before Sunday's final - in a timely boost ahead of his assault on a 12th French Open crown in a week's time.
"He came out with the right game plan".
In slower conditions to those in Madrid last week, Rafa has thrived, and today he faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals.
"It was a great week for me and my team", said the 27-year-old, now coached by former Rome champion Conchita Martinez.
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He was beaten by Djokovic in the Australian Open final in January, and had lost at the semi-final stage in his past four tournaments.
"I'm not mad, but between sad and disappointed", added Osaka, who still hopes to compete at Roland Garros.
Sixth seed Bertens now goes through to meet Britain's Johanna Konta, who battled past Czech Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
"Nobody really gave me chance for this tournament - even me", Pliskova said.
"I'm really glad that I managed to get into the third set, considering the first set where I was blown away from the court", said Djokovic.
Top-ranked Djokovic, meanwhile, appeared exhausted after spending more than five and-a-half hours on court against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman the previous two days.
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