Nadal overwhelms Gasquet to reach Rome final
Rome: A dominant Rafael Nadal broke Richard Gasquet's resolve and eased into the Rome Masters final with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over the 16th seed here on Saturday.
Taking an 8-0 record against Gasquet into this match, the world number one survived some nervous moments in the first set before completing a comprehensive win with a lop-sided second set.
It took the Spanish 24-year-old's record at this tournament to 31 wins and just one loss -- in 2008 against Juan-Carlos Ferrero -- as he aims for a sixth title in seven years here.
Having suffered from a fever earlier in the week, Nadal showed no ill effects as he set up a final meeting against either world number two Novak Djokovic or number four Andy Murray.
But the prospect of facing Djokovic, so far unbeaten this year, is not one that Nadal is relishing.
"I'm not going to be stupid, I prefer to play Murray," admitted Nadal.
"Djokovic beat me the last three times and I'm not someone who wants revenge so it's better to play Murray.
"If I play against Murray all the talk will be about playing the only player to beat Novak this year, so it will still be very tough.
"If it's Djokovic I'll be there to fight. There will probably be less pressure on me than before because I'll lose the favourite status and be able to play without 100 percent pressure.
"I'll try my best and fight, sport is this. If someone is better than you then you try to find solutions to find that level."
The undisputed king of clay has won two tournaments on the dirt this season but last week suffered his first defeat on the surface to Djokovic in the Madrid final.
It was the third Masters final he had lost to the Serbian this season following those in Indian Wells and Miami.
Gasquet had a big chance to get his nose in front in the sixth game when a couple of backhand winners, including a brilliant crosscourt one from the back of the court, gave him double break point.
But Nadal went for the percentages and some high kicking serves out wide put him on the front foot and got him out of trouble as the Frenchman's inspiration deserted him.
Some power hitting from Nadal gave him his first break chance in the 11th game as he forced several errors from Gasquet.
Facing break point the 16th seed opted to serve and volley but Nadal sent a scintillating backhand pass crosscourt on the return.
Still Gasquet wasn't out of it as Nadal went long on a lob under pressure to give up a break point when serving for the set but the Frenchman typically followed up two good points with a weak return of serve.
Then, in a stunning rally that swayed one way and the next Nadal finished it with a forehand winner right on the line before Gasquet netted his return on set point.
The crucial difference in that set was that Gasquet had four break points and took none, whereas Nadal pounced on the only one he had.
Despite how the match finished, Gasquet was far from disappointed with his efforts.
"I played extremely well in the first set but I didn't get the break. I was on court for one hour in the first set and it's difficult.
"I was really at a very high level but he hits hard, he served well and I've got nothing to reproach myself about.
"I played very well."
Gasquet needed to regroup quickly but instead he played another sloppy service game to kick off the second set and on break point a poor drop shot brought Nadal to the net where he hit a rare winning forehand volley.
The Frenchman did hold in the third game but thereafter he surrendered far too meekly.