Rafael Nadal had lost at the quarter-final stage of his three previous trips to the Italian capital
AFP / Andreas SOLARO
AFP, 18 May 2018: Rafael Nadal continued his clay domination on Friday, rallying from a set down to reach the Italian Open semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini.
The world number two needs to lift an eighth career title at the Foro Italico on Sunday to return to the top of the ATP rankings after losing that position to Roger Federer last week.
Spaniard Nadal dropped the opening set in an hour but re-grouped effortlessly as he swept past the Italian in the one-sided second and third sets of their quarter-final tie.
"I'm not used to playing so early," Nadal said of his midday start. "But I'm very happy to be in the semi-finals.
"This was a very important win for me today."
Nadal also beat Fognini in Rome in 2013 in their first ever meeting.
This was his 11th victory in 14 meetings with the 21st-ranked Italian, and sixth in a row.
He is working towards Roland Garros, where he will aim for an unprecedented 11th title.
"My clay court season has been, I think, fantastic. It will be much better if I finish here with another title," added the 16-time Grand Slam winner.
"But I can't forget that I had five months without competing, from Shanghai (October 2017) until Monte-Carlo (last month). I didn't complete -- not one event.
"The comeback has been great, I am happy with everything."
It was the first time in four years that Nadal managed to win his quarter-final tie in Rome and next up he will face either fellow former world number one Novak Djokovic or Japan's Kei Nishikori.
Marin Cilic beat Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3 to reach the Rome semi-finals for the first time in his career.
The Croatian fourth seed lost in the 2011 and 2017 quarter-finals at the Foro Italico, but dismissed Busta in 65 minutes.
Nadal and Cilic were joined as semi-finalist by women's fourth seed Elina Svitolina, who recovered from a slow start to defeat former world number one Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 6-4.
"I had to really step up and play really aggressive in important moments," Svitolina said. "I think that was the key for today.
"I played really good on the important points. That's what made a difference."