- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2012

ROME — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic edged Roger Federer on Saturday to set up another meeting with rival Rafael Nadal in the Italian Open final.

The defending champion at the Foro Italico, Djokovic beat Federer 6-2, 7-6 (4). Five-time winner Nadal eliminated fellow Spaniard David Ferrer 7-6 (6), 6-0 in the other semifinal.

“We’re both physically fit and fresh and ready to deliver our best tomorrow,” Djokovic said. “We have a great rivalry. He’s the player I’ve played the most against in my career and there are no secrets. It’s going to be a good fight. It would be good for both of us to get that trophy before Paris.”

The French Open, the only Grand Slam Djokovic didn’t win last year, begins next weekend.

Maria Sharapova defeated rising German player Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 and will defend her title against French Open champion Li Na. The Chinese player advanced after Serena Williams withdrew shortly before their semifinal with a lower back injury.

Williams said the back problem affected her game earlier this week. But she said she’ll be ready for Roland Garros.

“It was feeling a little stiff and I don’t think this is the right moment to force (it),” she said. “I just want to relax and get ready for the next few months. … This is a good week to get better and I’m confident that I’ll be 100 percent.”

Djokovic beat Nadal in last year’s final, and defeated the Spaniard in an epic Australian Open final in January, which at 5 hours, 53 minutes was the longest Grand Slam championship match. Nadal easily won their last meeting in the Monte Carlo final last month when Djokovic was mourning the death of his grandfather.

“It’s going to be an interesting one, especially after what happened in Monaco,” said Federer, who moved past Nadal to No. 2 this week. “Djokovic has pressure to defend his points and his title and Nadal wants to close the points gap with me.”

Nadal beat Djokovic in the 2009 Rome final and holds a 17-14 career edge over the Serb.

“Playing Rafa is always a challenge. He’s the best player ever on this surface. But after 2011, I know I can win now,” Djokovic said. “I need to step into the court and take chances and not allow him to move me around.”

Against Federer, Djokovic was cruising until he served for the match at 5-4 in the second. Federer saved a match point with a blazing inside-out forehand crosscourt winner, and then converted his first break point of the match to draw even.

“I knew that a player with his capabilities could come back into the match at any point, and that was the case at 5-4,” Djokovic said.

However, even with the sell-out crowd of 10,500 doing their best to encourage Federer, the 16-time Grand Slam winner made a series of costly groundstroke errors in the tiebreaker to hand Djokovic the win.

In all, Federer committed more than twice as many unforced errors as Djokovic, 42-20.

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