Nadal, Djokovic to square off in Rome quarter-finals

A mouth-watering matchup awaits between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Friday’s  Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals.

Nadal was involved in the pick of the day’s matches, as he took on Nick Kyrgios in an enthralling third-round encounter.

After exchanging breaks right at the start of the first set, the duo remained evenly matched, with Kyrgios saving a set point at 4-5 before seizing the initiative in the ensuing tie-breaker, winning four points in a row from 3-3 to go one set up.

But Nadal has been much improved in recent weeks and bounced back immediately in the second set, regaining his lost momentum with an early break before grabbing another a few games later to open up a 4-1 lead.

There was no way back in the second set for Kyrgios, who spurned three break point oppotunities at 2-5 to stay in the set.

Nadal would not face another break point for the remainder of the match, breaking in the third game of the final set for a 2-1 lead and staying rock solid on serve from that point on to close out another confidence-boosting win.

“Today was an important victory for me, of course, against a very difficult opponent,” said the Spaniard.

“Coming back after a tough first set that I had a lot of opportunities. I believe, after the first six games I think I had more chances than him, but I had couple of mistakes on those chances. And then on the tie-break I hit one double fault and then he played great.”

Kyrgios received treatment on his hip during the match, but did not use it as an excuse afterwards.

“My hip was not great before the match either, but I knew my game plan and I knew I was going to try and play aggressive,” said Kyrgios. “It’s bothering me but it didn’t really bother me too much at all.

“I mean, he just — couple points here and there, it was tight and he just played well in the big points. That’s pretty much it.”

Kyrgios was taking confidence from pushing Nadal to three sets on clay, however, and used it as evidence of how far he’s come in the last 12 months.

“It makes me feel confident,” he added. “Obviously he’s the greatest of all time on this surface. For me, just when I was a bit younger, two years ago, we were always talking about playing Rafa on clay, and I always thought I’d get absolutely destroyed against him. Then to play him and compete out there, deep in the third, [a] three-hour match, it feels pretty good.”

Awaiting Nadal in the last eight is the formidable form of Novak Djokovic, who survived a bizarre first set blow-out against Thomaz Bellucci to secure a 0-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.

After losing the first set in just 24 minutes, he produced an ironic cheer at the start of the second set when he held serve.

It soon returned to business as usual for the top-ranked Serb, however, as he claimed one break in the second set and two more in the third to wrap up the victory in an hour and 39 minutes.

Also advancing was second seed Andy Murray, who needed just 78 minutes to defeat Jeremy Chardy 6-0, 6-4, and sixth seed Kei Nishikori, who was a 6-1, 6-4 winner over Richard Gasquet.

Juan Monaco eliminated Stan Wawrinka 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-4, while Lucas Pouille accounted for clay court specialist David Ferrer, winning 6-4, 6-1.

Roger Federer went down in a shock upset in the first match of the day, losing 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 to Dominic Thiem.