Two-time champion Novak Djokovic 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 fifth-seeded former top- ranked Nadal had to come from behind in order to sneak past big-hitting Latvian Ernests Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 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 Day-5 victory.
The reigning Australian Open titlist has reached the final in Rome in four of the last five years. He lost to Nadal in last year's finale after beating his great Spanish rival in the final here in 2011.
Meanwhile, Nadal is now is 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 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 seventh-seeded former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
This week's big winner will earn $650,000.