Two-time champion Novak Djokovic, two-time runner-up Roger Federer and reigning titlist Rafael Nadal were among Thursday's third-round winners at the $3.475 million Italian Masters tennis event.
The world No. 1 Djokovic, who titled here in 2008 and 2011, topped Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-4 in 60 minutes, while the second-seeded former No. 1 Federer drilled Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2 in a mere 62 minutes and the fifth-seeded former top-ranked Nadal had to come from behind in order to sneak past big-hitting Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 37 minutes on the red clay at this French Open tune-up at Foro Italico.
"That is exactly what I was looking for in my game," Djokovic said following his victory over Dolgopolov. "He's skilled but he made a lot of errors today. I did well from the beginning of the match, found my rhythm and took control right way."
The reigning Australian Open titlist Djokovic has reached the final in Rome in four of the last five years. He lost to Nadal in last year's title tilt after beating his great Spanish rival in the final here in 2011.
Thursday marked the third time in 303 clay matches that Nadal lost the opening set 6-1. The others he also came back to win -- in 2011 Davis Cup action against Juan Martin del Potro and at the 2006 French Open against Federer.
Nadal is now riding a 12-match winning streak and seeking a third title in three events. Last week's Madrid Masters champ has played in seven finals in as many tournaments in 2013 and already piled up five titles since returning from a seven-month injury layoff back in February.
The clay-court king, who is the all-time leader with 23 Masters shields, is a six-time champion in Rome.
Up next for last year's French Open runner-up Djokovic will be Czech slugger Tomas Berdych, while Federer's quarterfinal opponent will be 6-foot-8 Pole Jerzy Janowicz and Nadal will battle fourth-seeded fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, who advanced without lifting his racquet when German Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out of their scheduled affair. Nadal outlasted Ferrer in an epic quarterfinal last week in Madrid and is a lopsided 18-4 lifetime versus his countryman, including a victory in the Rome final three years ago.
The sixth-seeded former Wimbledon runner-up Berdych handled tall South African Kevin Anderson 7-5, 6-2, while an upset came when rising Frenchman Benoit Paire toppled the seventh-seeded former U.S. Open champion del Potro 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
Another third-rounder saw Spain's Marcel Granollers take out France's Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. Granollers will meet Paire on Friday.
This week's big winner will earn $650,000.