World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was stretched to three sets for the second time this week at the Italian Open on Thursday, rallying to defeat Thomaz Bellucci 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
It was the 19th consecutive match win for the Serb, who will next meet Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals after Japan’s No. 1 player defeated Djokovic’s Serb countryman and friend Viktor Troicki 6-4, 6-3.
Djokovic also needed three sets to beat Nicolas Almagro in the second round.
Had Murray not withdrawn on Thursday from the tournament to rest-up for the French Open, allowing David Goffin to advance into the quarterfinals, and defeated Goffin, then all eight top seeds would have advanced into the quarters.
Other winners Thursday were No. 2 Roger Federer defeating No. 15 Kevin Anderson 6-3, 7-5; No. 4 Rafael Nadal overcoming the big serve of No. 16 John Isner 6-4, 6-4; No. 6 Tomas Berdych barely stopping the run of homecountry favorite Fabio Fognini 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2); No. 7 David Ferrer strumming Spanish countryman Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-3; and No. 8 Stan Wawrinka topping Austrian comer Dominic Thiem 7-6(3), 6-4.
Federer against Anderson blew a 5-2 lead in the second before closing it out 7-5.
“It was so different, because it’s Kevin and his amazing serve,” the Swiss said. “There’s only so much you can do on the return games. The first thing was not to get frustrated, because I was not seeing where he was serving…I was able to break him four times, which was a really good effort in the quick conditions here in Rome.”
Federer is 13-6 against his quarterfinal opponent Berdych.
Nadal appeared as if he was approaching back to form in his straight-set win over Isner, and will next meet Wawrinka.
“When I was winning a lot in the past during claycourt season, I never thought that was the normal state,” Nadal said. “I always thought that was really special. Today, I accept all the challenges that the tour presents me, having some good weeks and some bad weeks, but always with the motivation to find the right way again.”
Nadal is 12-1 career versus Wawrinka, with the Swiss taking their most recent meeting at the 2014 Australian Open.
World No. 1 Serena Williams’ walk off was the big story on the women’s side on Thursday, with the American citing elbow pain and the desire to be 100 percent for Roland Garros.
“It actually started a little bit in Madrid last week,” Williams said. “I wasn’t serving my best. I have to be able to serve and hit my shots with a lot of confidence, and when you’re injured, you don’t have that much confidence. It’s so important to have it when you go up against any player out there, whether it’s in my match today or in the final of a Grand Slam. You just really need it.”
The result was a walkover for fellow American and qualifier Christina McHale, who advances into the quarterfinals against another qualifier, Russian Daria Gavrilova, who upset one of the hottest players of the claycourt season, Swiss Timea Bacsinszky 6-4, 7-6.
Top 10-seeded winners Thursday were No. 2 Simona Halep rolling No. 14 Venus Williams 6-2, 6-1; No. 3 Maria Sharapova handling Serb qualifier Bojana Jovanovski 6-3, 6-3; No. 4 Petra Kvitova continuing her clay run with an easy 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 16 Jelena Jankovic; and No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro upsetting No. 6 Eugenie Bouchard in a grinder 6-7(2), 7-5, 7-6(7).
Romanian qualifier Alexandra Dulgheru was also an upset winner over No. 8 Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 6-3, and in the late match unseeded former No. 1 held off Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 5-7, 6-1.
CENTRALE start 12:00
[Q] A. Dulgheru (ROU) vs  S. Halep (ROU)
Not Before 2:00 pm
 T. Berdych (CZE) vs  R. Federer (SUI)
Not Before 4:00 pm
 N. Djokovic (SRB) vs  K. Nishikori (JPN)
Not Before 7:30 pm
 M. Sharapova (RUS) vs I. Begu (ROU) or V. Azarenka (BLR)
Not Before 9:00 pm
 S. Wawrinka (SUI) vs  R. Nadal (ESP)
GRANDSTAND start 12:00
D. Goffin (BEL) vs  D. Ferrer (ESP)
Not Before 2:00 pm
 C. Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs  P. Kvitova (CZE)
[Q] C. Mchale (USA) vs [Q] D. Gavrilova (RUS)
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