Rafael Nadal came from a set down to reach the Italian Open semi-finals ©Getty Images

Spain’s Rafael Nadal battled back from a set down to reach the semi-final stage of the Italian Open at the Foro Italico in Rome.

Nadal, who has proved a dominant force on clay courts throughout his career, face the challenge of the often unpredictable Italian Fabio Fognini.

The top seed was broken by Fognini early on, as the Italian clinched the opening set of the match 6-4 to threaten a major upset.

Nadal responded in impressive fashion, as the Spaniard hit back to claim the next two sets 6-1, 6-2 to claim victory.

The result continued to underline Nadal as the favourite for the French Open later this month, where he will look to win the Grand Slam for an 11th time.

He will face the winner of the match between former world number one Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

Croatia’s Marin Cilic progressed to the last four with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

Cilic will Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the defending champion, who beat Belgium’s David Goffin 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova progressed to the women’s semi-finals, after coming out on top in a close battle with reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The Latvian player won the first set on a tie-break, but Sharapova won the next two to secure a 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 win.

Maria Sharapova came through a tough match to earn a semi-final spot ©Getty Images
Maria Sharapova came through a tough match to earn a semi-final spot ©Getty Images

Sharapova will now take on either top seed Simona Halep of Romania or France’s Caroline Garcia.

The second semi-final will see Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina face the challenge of Estonia’s Anett Knotaveit.

Svitolina beat Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-4 in their quarter-final, while Knotaveit beat Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1.

The event continues tomorrow.

It is a key warm-up to the French Open, the clay court Grand Slam which begins on May 27.

It is an Association of Tennis Professionals Masters 1000 tournament and a Premier 5 event on the Women's Tennis Association tour.