Djokovic edges Nishikori to set up Murray final in Rome Masters
Despite a bizarre ankle injury, the Serb fought his way into a second straight final with Andy Murray with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 win.
World number one Novak Djokovic overcame a self-inflicted ankle injury to battle into the Rome Masters final after a thrilling 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) win over Kei Nishikori on Saturday.
It means Djokovic will meet Britain's Andy Murray, the second seed, in a second successive Masters final on Sunday a week after beating the Scot in Madrid.
Djokovic, the top seed and defending champion, had laid the foundations for a fifth title in Rome with a hard-fought and classy win over seven-time champion Rafael Nadal on Friday.
But the Serbian almost scuppered his hopes when he inadvertantly bruised his left ankle with his raquet as he hit it against his shoe to shake off the red dirt.
Later, he said: "A message to all the kids out there: don't hit your own ankle when you're cleaning your shoes."
It left Djokovic requiring medical treatment, and appeared to rob him of the early momentum against the Japanese sixth seed.
"It was an awkward situation in the first game, I hit myself pretty hard on the ankle and bruised the bone," he explained.
"It hurt for a while, and though the pain faded it returned towards the end of the match.'
Nishikori - who suffered a semi-final defeat to the Serbian in Madrid - was a tough customer for tennis's man of the moment.
Nishikori's agility and movement were crucial in a 43-minute first set that he peppered with a healthy dose of drop shots.
Djokovic upped the momentum at a key moment in the second set, forcing a decider with a break on his first set point in the 10th game.
Djokovic maintained the momentum in the third set, but again Nishikori came out swinging.
The Serbian got the break in the second game, only for Nishikori to level at 4-4.
He saved match point at 5-4 before going on to force the tiebreak. Although he saved a further two match points, Nishikori was unable to save a fourth as Djokovic sealed the win in just over three hours.
In the end, the Serbian won 112 points to 111 for Nishikori.
"The first set was flawless from his side, and in the third set he had a couple of break points," said Djokovic.
"Maybe a couple of opportunities I could have done better. But big credit to Kei. I saw the stats, I only had one more point than him and that says everything."
Nishikori said: "I'm really disappointed, it was only a matter of a few points in the tie break.
"I played really good and aggressive in the first set, and in the second I stopped doing that and his game got better.
"I think in the tie break I made too many unforced errors. That was the biggest mistake I made today.'
Djokovic will now meet Murray on Sunday, the second time in a week the pair have featured in a Masters final.
Murray had an easier path to the final, winning his semi-final over French lucky loser Lucas Pouille in just over an hour.
"I'm excited to go out again and battle. I don't have too much time to recover, but I've had this situation before in my career," added Djokovic, aiming for a fifth Rome title.