Rafael Nadal Rome Masters
Rafael Nadal hits a return in the quarterfinal match against Andy MurrayReuters

World number one Rafael Nadal triumphed over Andy Murray in a thrilling three-set encounter to book a spot in the semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome.

Although 27-year-old Murray appeared on course for victory after being 4-2 up in the decider, Nadal showed why he is the world number one by making an excellent comeback, winning 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 in two hours and 40 minutes.

This victory means Nadal will face Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals on Saturday. Meanwhile, Murray will now head for the French Open, which starts on 25 May.

Despite the defeat, the Scotsman showed a great display in the tournament, getting two wins on clay before finally losing a hard-fought match with Nadal.

"I'm getting close to getting back to where I want to be, and that's pleasing with a couple of big months ahead. Tonight was probably the best I've hit the ball for a while, and the best I've felt physically since the [back] surgery [in September]," BBC quoted Murray as saying.

Murray, who had beaten Nadal in the Japan Open two-and-a-half years ago, did very well to restrict the Spaniard from using his feared forehand and this helped the Scot keep the 2008 Olympic gold medal winner on the back foot, while a first-serve percentage of 80 percent also played a big part in the early dominance.

However, Nadal finally began taking control after he managed to save an early break point in the second set. Murray began to crack in the third set after leading 4-2, as Nadal's trademark fighting qualities came to the fore, with the Spaniard winning 12 of the last 13 points, to seal his victory.

"The physical part is really good, the mental part too, and my tennis is going to be there sooner or later. This was one of my best matches in a while," said Nadal.

Murray admitted he was very disappointed to lose the match after being in such a good position.

"That was my chance [at 4-2] and I played a poor game, so I'm disappointed with that. I maybe rushed a little bit, because I was being very patient for the majority of the match. Physically, he was a little bit stronger at the end.''

Meanwhile, world number two Novak Djokovic scraped past Spain's fifth seed David Ferrer 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, while Canada's eighth seed Milos Raonic triumphed over Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 to setup a clash with the Serbian in the semis.

Dimitrov will take on Nadal in the last-four after Germany's Tommy Haas was forced to retire due to a shoulder injury.

In the women's matches, China's second seed Li Na was surprisingly defeated by Italy's Sara Errani 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. The 27-year-old Italian is now set to face Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, who registered a 6-4, 6-4 win over Poland's third seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

Finally, Serbia's eleventh seed Ana Ivanovic beat Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to book a meeting with top seed Serena Williams, who registered a comfortable 6-1, 6-3 win over China's Zhang Shuai.

Catch Rafael Nadal vs Andy Murray match highlights Here