Roger Federer failed to make the quarter-finals of a tournament for the first time in a year on Thursday, while Rafael Nadal returned to form in the third round of the Rome Masters despite almost withdrawing with a fever.
Novak Djokovic then stretched his unbeaten run for the year to 34 matches after winning eight of the last nine games against Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka to triumph 6-4, 6-1.
Third-seed Federer took the first set 6-4 against France’s Richard Gasquet, but, in a match of clean-hitting strokes, he lost the next two sets against the 16th seed on tiebreaks (7-2, 7-4).
World No. 4 Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych, Croat Marin Cilic and German Florian Mayer also made it through to the last eight.
“I should never have lost this match,” world No. 3 Federer, knocked out by Ernests Gulbis in the second round in Rome last year, told reporters. “He knows how close he came to losing. I had multiple chances, but I couldn’t make the difference.”
The Swiss, who had won the past eight matches between the two, broke serve in the very first game, but Gasquet responded with 10 straight points to draw level at 2-2.
The long thrilling rallies had both players covering every bit of the court, but it was Federer who broke again in the seventh game with two sweet forehands to take the set.
Gasquet, whose one victory against Federer had come on clay at Monte Carlo in 2005, fought back by trouncing the tired-looking Swiss in the second set tieback with a backhand winner, before a flourishing crosscourt forehand.
With games going with serve in the deciding set, Gasquet again showed a steelier side, forcing Federer into two top-spin backhand errors in another confident tiebreak to take the scalp.
World No. 1 Nadal reached the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat of fellow left-hander and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
“I had a fever last night and only decided at the last minute to go on court,” Nadal, champion in Rome for five of the past six years, told reporters.
On Wednesday, he came within two games of a shock defeat by Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, adding to concerns for the Mallorcan, whose 37-match winning streak on clay was ended by Djokovic in the final of the Madrid Open on Sunday.
Djokovic can knock Nadal from the top of the rankings if he wins the title and the Spaniard falls before the semi-finals.
Nadal said he would take no chances with his health with the start of the French Open just over a week away, although he played down speculation he might not be fit to defend his title.
“Why wouldn’t I be OK for Roland Garros?” he said. “In 2009, I wasn’t OK. My knee was destroyed. I’m worried about tomorrow, not in one-week-and-a-half’s time.”
Despite his illness Nadal stamped his authority from the start against Lopez, winning the opening three games, but his early fire fizzled out as the unseeded Lopez hit back for 4-4.
Nadal held serve for a 5-4 lead and Lopez buckled in the 10th game, missing a volley, netting an attempted drop shot and then watching as Nadal unleashed a fierce backhand winner.
Nadal waited until the sixth game of the second set to launch a match-ending attack, firing another flashing backhand pass and then winning a 26-stroke rally with a savage forehand to break the Lopez serve and cruise to victory in the sunshine.
Murray cruised into the last eight with a confident 6-2, 6-3 win over Italian No. 1 Potito Starace, while Berdych, the man Nadal beat in last year’s Wimbledon final, also reached the quarters with a 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 win over Jarkko Nieminen.
In women’s action, Francesca Schiavone set up a repeat of last year’s French Open final against Samantha Stosur in the quarter-finals as top seed Caroline Wozniacki also advanced to the last eight.
Dane Wozniacki dispatched Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 7-6 after Schiavone took advantage of rowdy home backing to recover from a set down to defeat Slovak Daniela Hantuchova 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
There were also third-round victories for Australian Stosur — a 6-3, 6-4 winner against Slovenian Polona Hercog — Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Greta Arn and Jelena Jankovic on another hot day in the Italian capital.
Schiavone, looking to hone her rhythm on clay before the defense of her Roland Garros title starts in just over a week, had to fight for victory.
“Winning a battle gives you a lot of satisfaction. I’m happy because I didn’t play that well, but sometimes in tennis it’s better winning that way,” Schiavone told reporters. “Tomorrow is another day and I hope to play better.”
The 20-year-old Wozniacki, the top seed, now faces fifth-seed and twice runner-up Jankovic, who won through against Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
Fourth-seed Li Na of China defeated Jarmila Gajdosova 6-2, 6-1 and will next play Hungarian Arn, who overcame Russian Elena Vesnina 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.
Russia’s Sharapova was again in ominous form in beating Shahar Peer 6-2, 6-2.