Djokovic keeps Federer in title drought

ROME -- Defending champion Novak Djokovic rallied after a rain delay to beat Roger Federer 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 Saturday in the semifinals of the Rome Masters, extending Federer's title drought to seven months.

Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in Sunday's final, after the top-ranked Spaniard cruised past Fernando Gonzalez 6-3, 6-3. Nadal extended his clay-court winning streak to 29 matches, stretching back to an opening-round loss here last year.

Federer wasted breaks in the second and third sets. He hasn't won a tournament since taking the title in October at home in Basel, Switzerland.

"I feel like this is not a match I should have given away," Federer said. "I usually don't give away opportunities like this."

Djokovic reached his second consecutive Masters Series final on clay, losing to Nadal in Monte Carlo two weeks ago. Nadal holds a 12-4 career edge over Djokovic. In Monte Carlo, Djokovic became the only player to take a set from Nadal on clay this year.

"I learned that I have to really play every point against him," Djokovic said.

Nadal's career record in Rome is 21-1, with three consecutive titles from 2005-2007.

Rome is a key warmup for the French Open, which begins in three weeks. It's the only Grand Slam title missing from Federer's collection of 13 majors.

"It's bad, but I still have some work to do on the clay," Federer said, referring to the upcoming Masters tournament in Madrid. "I have the feeling that maybe since I had the back problem, my serve is just not working there where I want it to be. That's something I have to make sure I can fix for Paris."

Djokovic needs to defend his title at the Foro Italico to prevent Andy Murray from taking his No. 3 ranking.

Djokovic began working with former Roland Garros winner Thomas Muster's old trainer Gebhard Phil-Gritsch last week, and he grew sharper as the match wore on.

With Federer up a set and 2-1 in the second, play was suspended for about an hour because of rain. When the sun returned, Federer had a chance to go up two breaks before Djokovic won five straight games to rally from 1-3 down and force a third set.

"I thought he came through with a bit more energy after the rain delay," Federer said. "All of a sudden it became a different match and he played better."

Federer's backhand gave him trouble in the third set.

A backhand drop-shot attempt from Federer landed in the net to hand Djokovic a break and a 4-3 lead, and the Swiss player then missed a routine backhand into the net on Djokovic's second match point.

Overall, Federer committed 42 unforced errors to Djokovic's 39.

Federer took control of the opening set when Djokovic was bothered by a whistle from the crowd.

Djokovic had already tossed the ball into the air for his second serve on break point when the whistle interrupted him.

He let the ball drop to the ground without hitting it and glared up into the stands.

He managed to get the serve in on his next try but missed a forehand long to hand Federer the break.

Fans started chanting "Out, Out" to encourage security officials to remove the whistler from the stadium, but it was unclear if they did.

Federer dropped to 7-4 in his career against Djokovic, who also won their last meeting at the Masters Series event a month ago in Key Biscayne, Fla.