The top three remaining seeds at the Rome Masters had a tough day Thursday. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both lost their opening sets before rallying while Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka suffered his second straight early exit this month in Masters play.
Wawrinka, who added an impressive Monte Carlo title to his resume last month, fell this afternoon to 36-year-old Tommy Haas 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. The third round loss for the Swiss follows a opening round exit last week in Madrid to Dominic Thiem, and Wawrinka says he’s fighting a minor back injury.
“I couldn’t move too well,” said Wawrinka after spraying 40 errors in the match. “It’s really nothing serious. It’s just painful and I need some rest — maybe a few days.”
Later, Rafael Nadal’s ill-form continued against heavy underdog Mikhail Youzhny. Nadal failed to close out the first set before dropping it in a breaker. Then alarmingly went down 2-0 in the second before storming back winning 11 straight games at one point to run away from the Russian 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1.
“I played with passion and motivation even if the feeling was not perfect,” said Nadal. “That’s always very good news, because when you have a lot of opportunities during the match, you keep fighting, trying to find solutions. That always means that you really want to win.”
Despite the win, the Nadal doubters grow in numbers as the Spaniard has now lost sets in his last three matches, albeit he’s won them all.
Next for Nadal in longtime rival Andy Murray. Playing on his 27th birthday, the Scot breezed past Jurgen Melzer to set up his first meeting with Rafa since 2011.
“It will be a great match for me with the French Open just around the corner, because I’ll see exactly where my game’s at and what I need to improve,” Murray said looking ahead. “I haven’t played him for a long time, regardless of the last time on clay. I didn’t play him at all when Ivan was coaching me. Both of our games will have changed in the last three years.”
Nadal leads Murray 13-5 in their head-to-head series.
“It will be a tough match and I need to play much better,” said Nadal. “I am confident. I have to go on court with the right mentality, I have to be aggressive, and doing the right things if I want to have chances to win, a little more control, a little more spin.
In the evening, Novak Djokovic got off to a slow start before pulling away from Philipp Kohlscreiber 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.
“I was trying to spin the ball too much and the court wasn’t getting that necessary bounce that I was looking for,” said Djokovic who showed no signs of any wrist troubles. “But then I started to be a little bit more aggressive and open up the court. It worked well.”
Also, Grigor Dimitrov lost the first set before putting together an excellent win over Tomas Berdych. He’ll now clash with Haas. And David Ferrer advanced to the quarters with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ernests Gulbis. Ferrer will be Djokovic’s quarterfinal opponent. The Serb leads Ferrer 11-5.
“[He] has had an incredible career overall, but especially on clay,” said Djokovic of Ferrer. “It’s going to be a big challenge and we’ll see where my game is.”
In the women’s field, the surging Maria Sharapova was upended by fellow French Open champion Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-4. Sharapova had won 12 straight matches on clay and hadn’t lost to Ivnaovic since the 2007 French Open until crashing out today.
“I had a great two weeks,” Sharapova said. “My energy level today maybe was not the best, but Ana played a really great match, she came out with winners from all over the court and she was the better player, that’s it. She was more aggressive than me, she wasn’t making a lot of mistakes. I felt that when I had a good shot I didn’t do much on the next one. I had opportunities but I didn’t follow through, and hesitated a little bit.”
Serena Williams, Li Na, Aga Radwanska and Jelena Jankovic were also winners.
FRIDAY ROME SCHEDULE
CENTRALE start 12:00 noon
WTA –  S Errani (ITA) vs  N Li (CHN)
Not Before 2:00 pm
ATP –  T Haas (GER) vs  G Dimitrov (BUL)
Not Before 4:00 pm
ATP –  D Ferrer (ESP) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
Not Before 7:30 pm
WTA –  S Williams (USA) vs S Zhang (CHN)
Not Before 9:00 pm
ATP –  R Nadal (ESP) vs  A Murray (GBR)
GRANDSTAND start 12:00 noon
ATP –  M Raonic (CAN) vs J Chardy (FRA)
Not Before 2:00 pm
WTA –  C Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs  A Ivanovic (SRB)
Not Before 3:00 pm
WTA –  J Jankovic (SRB) vs  A Radwanska (POL)
After Suitable Rest –  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs T Haas (GER) / R Stepanek (CZE)
Also Check Out:
Sharapova Beats French Open Finalist Stosur to Win Rome
Maria Sharapova Celebrates Her Rome Title With A Swig Of Champagne [Video]
Nadal Wins Title, Djokovic Ranking Drop in Rome
Preview: Serena in Doubt at Power-packed WTA Rome
Maria Sharapova: I Do Occasionally Still Feel Like A Cow On Ice, And I’m Sure I Look Like It, Too