Nadal struggles as top seeds advance in Rome
ROME, Italy -- Defending champion Rafael Nadal endured a three-set thriller before overcoming big-hitting Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday, May 16, to reach the Rome Masters quarter-finals.
Gulbis, ranked 46th, and a winner in Rome in 2010 over Roger Federer on his way to the semi-finals, saved two match points in the third set, but finally went down when he sent a forehand wide to the massive relief of a dancing, celebrating Nadal.
The Spaniard now stands 6-0 against Gulbis as he bids for a seventh Rome title.
He will next face compatriot David Ferrer, who advanced in a walkover against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was suffering from vertigo.
"On Friday, I have a chance against against a very difficult player. I survived a tough match today. Now I have another chance to try and go farther," said Nadal.
"Being in the quarter-finals is fantastic. I'm more than pleased with what I've done since I returned (from his seven months off with knee problems)."
Nadal was fresh from his Madrid title at the weekend - his record 23rd Masters.
He has won five titles from seven finals since returning to tennis after a seven-month injury absence.
Pain-free Djokovic advances
Top seed Novak Djokovic played without ankle pain in a routine 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Djokovic dispatched Dolgopolov in an hour, with five aces and 13 winners in a contest which began 45 minutes late due to morning rain.
The two-time Rome champion will next play Czech Tomas Berdych, a winner over South Africa's Kevin Anderson 7-5, 6-2.
Djokovic said that he had almost forgotten about his ankle injury since winning the title in Monte Carlo over Nadal last month.
"I've been pain-free for a week but I'm still very cautious in my warm-up and recovery. I don't think it will bother me any more and I don't think about it when I'm on the court," he said.
Second seed Federer demolished Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2 and set up a meeting with Jerzy Janowicz after the Pole knocked out Richard Gasquet, the ninth seed, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
Federer is looking for his first Rome trophy after playing finals in 2003 and 2006.
Women's top seeds move forward
In the women's event, world number one Serena Williams comfortably made the quarter-finals with a 6-0, 6-1 mauling of Slovakia's 14th seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Williams, who has now won 21 successive matches, will face Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro for a spot in the semi-finals.
"Nothing is ever perfect -- I learned that last year when I felt perfect," said Williams, referring to her stunning first-round loss at Roland Garros in 2012.
"I am still in the danger zone."
Williams added: "I can't remember the other winning streaks, but I hope I can get to 22 and the rest of the matches that I have here.
"Plus seven, and Wimbledon too, so it would be dangerous to lose now."
Second seed Maria Sharapova, winner of the last two editions, out-hit Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour.
Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka also went through when Ayumi Morita retired through injury in the second set.
Unseeded two-time champion Jelena Jankovic upset 2011 Roland Garros winner Li Na, the Chinese fifth seed, 7-6 (7/2), 7-5.
"I felt like I wasn't playing so badly today, it was just a really long, tough match between me and JJ," Li said.
"I was trying a lot of things out there on the court today. Sometimes it was working, sometimes it didn't." - Rappler.com