Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer posted victories on Friday to put Spain halfway to the dream goal of four men into the semifinals of the Rome Masters.

Sixth-seed Verdasco did it tough, fighting for three-and-a-quarter hours to eliminate second-seed Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4 in a draining marathon.

It went quickly for Ferrer a day after the No. 13 ambushed Andy Murray, with the Spaniard defeating French seventh-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-1 in a mere 71 minutes.

Verdasco and his compatriot will now play a repeat of last weekend’s Barcelona semifinal, won by Verdasco on the way to that trophy after losing the Monte Carlo final a week earlier to Rafael Nadal.

In the remaining quarters, third-seed Nadal, biding for his fifth Rome title honour, was playing 2008 runner-up Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland.

The final Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez, was taking on Latvian Ernests Gulbis, who knocked out Roger Federer in the second round.

It was the first time in five years in Rome that Iberian players figured in all four quarterfinals.

Djokovic’s loss to Verdasco was his earliest for the No 2 at the Foro Italico since 2007, where he was beaten by Nadal at the same stage. Djokovic won the clay title in 2008 and lost to Nadal in the title match a year ago.

“I played well, it was a tough match to lose,” said Djokovic. “I was close to victory, but I didn’t have the luck. But that is sport and life goes on.

“I have two more weeks of tournaments now before the French Open, including my home event in Belgrade and Madrid.

“I knew we would have a long match, and I missed a few chances in the third set. That third game where I saved four or five break points and then lost my serve was a big key.

“We both played at a very high level, I still have faith in my game.” Djokovic and Verdasco served notice of a long afternoon with a first set, which consumed 87 minutes, featured four breaks of serve and a tiebreaker won by the Spaniard, who claimed the Barcelona trophy.

Djokovic rescued the second set to level at a one apiece, was unable to fight back in the third set from a break in the third game, with Verdasco holding onto his 2-1 lead and finishing the gruelling contest with his third ace.

The winner managed 33 winners and 40 unforced errors, converting on only four of his 14 break point chances as Djokovic repeatedly was put to the test on defence.

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