In their first meeting in over a year, Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic on Saturday 7-6 (4) 6-3 to reach the finals of the Italian Open in Rome. 

The world No. 1 needed 71 minutes to hold off one of his main rivals, though Djokovic gave Nadal some trouble in the first set. It was the 51st meeting between the two superstars, with Djokovic still with the better record, 26-25.

"That was a tough battle, a good level of tennis, a combination of good tactics and great shots from both of us," Nadal said.

Despite the defeat, it was an encouraging performance for the Serb following his elbow problems and with the French Open just a week away. The 30-year-old displayed some of his trademark big forehands to keep the match competitive. 

Djokovic has won the Italian four times and had reached the final the past four years. 

The Spaniard on Sunday will face the tournament's defending champion Alexander Zverev, who defeated Marin Cilic in the later match. 

“I need to be ready to play my best tomorrow," said Nadal. "This victory today is a big confidence for me. This tournament has been very positive for me after last week in Madrid. To come back to a final, I’m very happy.”

Nadal has won the Italian Open seven times but hasn't taken home the title since 2013.

GettyImages-960102038 Rafael Nadal (left) chats with Novak Djokovic after their match at the 2018 Italian Open. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images