Andy Murray to play Novak Djokovic in Italian Open final

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport in Rome
Andy Murray reaches Italian Open final
Murray will return to number two in the world rankings on Monday, even if he loses the Rome final

British number one Andy Murray reached his first Italian Open final with a straight-set victory over unseeded Frenchman Lucas Pouille.

Murray, seeded second, won 6-2 6-1 in a rain-interrupted semi-final at Rome's Foro Italico to make Sunday's final.

He now meets Novak Djokovic - who beat him in last week's Madrid Open final - after the Serb defeated Kei Nishikori.

In the women's singles, top seed Serena Williams will face Madison Keys on Sunday in an all-American final.

Murray makes swift progress despite rain

World number three Murray, who will be 29 on Sunday, broke serve four times as he won in 59 minutes.

The first semi-final was delayed by an hour because of heavy rain, and the players were forced off for 15 minutes during the first set.

"I think it is the first time since I've been on Tour that I've not had a chance to hit balls before going on to the court," said Murray.

"It pretty much rained non-stop and then they flipped the schedule around so I didn't feel that comfortable coming on to court.

Novak Djokovic (left) and Andy Murray
Djokovic beat Murray in last week's Madrid Open final

"But he made a few mistakes and I served well to make it easy for myself."

In between the showers, Murray was at his ruthless best against world number 52 Pouille, playing his first ATP Masters semi-final.

The 22-year-old looked nervous as he dropped serve from 40-0 in the fourth game and - after that brief rain delay - Murray broke again to clinch the set.

It was a similar story in the second set, with Murray repeatedly drawing his opponent into the net and setting up the passing shot.

Two more breaks of serve gave Murray the match and he left the Centrale Court in sunshine, having surpassed his best effort of reaching the last four in 2011.

"A lot of the best players of all time have played, won and competed for the title here, so I'm very happy to get the chance to do that," added Murray.

"After 10 years of kind of struggling on the clay and especially this event maybe not playing my best, I'm happy to be there."

Djokovic provides final test

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic converted only two out of 14 break points in a thrilling semi-final against Kei Nishikori

Murray completes his preparation for the French Open, which starts on 22 May, by facing world number one Djokovic in Sunday's final (16:00 BST).

The Serb, 28, needed to dig deep to beat Nishikori in the second semi-final, eventually prevailing 2-6 6-4 7-6 (7-5) in a match lasting a minute over three hours.

"Any time you get the chance to play the best players, especially right before a Slam, is great preparation," said Murray, who has won just one of his past 13 matches against Djokovic.

"Regardless of who I play in the final, I know I will be pushed hard. That's what you want."

Murray is bidding to win the third clay-court title of his career after finally succeeding on the surface in back-to-back tournaments last year.

"Clay is not my most natural surface, but because of the wins I've had on it in the last few years, once I've played a few matches and had a bunch of practice sessions on it, I do start to feel much better," said Murray, who reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

"I believe that I can compete with the best players on this surface now, because of the wins I've had in the last two years."

Serena Williams reaches Italian open final
Serena Williams has won 15 successive matches against American opponents since sister Venus beat her at Montreal in 2014

Serena finding form before French Open

Williams reached her fourth Italian Open final with a 6-4 6-1 win over Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu.

The world number one missed the start of the clay-court season through illness, but is finding form before her title defence at Roland Garros.

Williams is one Grand Slam victory away from equalling Steffi Graf's record of 22 singles titles in the Open era.

And, after beating world number 35 Begu in one hour and 26 minutes, she is one victory in Rome away from her 70th career title.

Keys, 21, stands in her way after a shock 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 victory over third seed Garbine Muguruza.

The unseeded American, ranked 24th in the world, had already produced the best European clay-court performance of her career to reach the last four.

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