Nadal sets up dream final with Federer in Rome
ROME, May 13 (Reuters) Defending champion Rafael Nadal today set up a dream final against Roger Federer at the Rome Masters tennis when he beat Gael Monfils 6-2 6-2.
If Nadal beats the world number one on Sunday he will equal Guillermo Vilas's all-time record of 53 consecutive wins on clay, set in 1977.
The final gives the world's top two players a chance to resume their intense rivalry in which Spaniard Nadal holds the upper hand after winning the last three contests including the final of the Monte Carlo Masters claycourt event last month.
''It's always special when the top two play each other. It certainly was in Monte Carlo,'' said Federer, whose best result in five previous visits to the Italian capital was runner-up to Felix Mantilla in 2003.
''We both look forward to it. It's good for us and good for the game, especially on clay.'' While Nadal had few problems getting the better of Frenchman Monfils in the battle of the 19-year-olds, Federer was forced to come from a break down in the deciding set of his match against fourth seed David Nalbandian before winning 6-3 3-6 7-6.
It was his second close brush with defeat in as many days following his quarter-final against Spanish qualifier Nicolas Almagro, which he edged 7-5 in the third.
Argentina's Nalbandian promised to be a tough opponent, having beaten Federer six times in their previous 10 meetings including in the season-ending Masters Cup final last year.
The first four games all went against serve. The Swiss broke in the eighth game and then held serve to take the first set.
Instead of settling into his game, however, Federer hit a series of unforced errors to allow Nalbandian to go 3-1 up in the second set and serve out to level the match.
Federer started the decider in the worst possible way, losing his serve and flinging down his racquet in disgust at the changeover.
He hit back in the fourth game, which he snatched on his third break point when Nalbandian sent a forehand over the baseline.
Another break put Federer 4-2 up. He had three points to take a 5-2 lead but Nalbandian rallied to break back and level the set.
In the tiebreak, a netted backhand by Nalbandian and a winning service return by Federer gave the Swiss two matchpoints. He converted the second when Nalbandian put a forehand long.
REUTERS SY RN2325