Rafael Nadal was pushed to three sets for the second consecutive match and lined up an Italian Open quarterfinal with Andy Murray on Thursday.
The top-ranked Nadal dropped behind a set and a break against Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, then won 11 of the final 12 games to prevail 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-1 on another windy day at the Foro Italico. Murray eliminated Jurgen Melzer of Austria 7-6 (1), 6-4 to celebrate his 27th birthday.
In an upset, the seemingly ageless Tommy Haas beat third-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.
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On the women’s side, Ana Ivanovic beat two-time Rome champion Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-4.
Perhaps drained from his three-hour win over Gilles Simon that ended near midnight a day earlier, Nadal didn’t generate the usual depth with his groundstrokes and began to take control only when Youzhny started committing more unforced errors.
Nadal consistently ran around his backhand, a shot that also caused him concern in recent losses to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, respectively.
A seven-time champion in Rome, Nadal hasn’t lost three matches on clay in one season in a decade, but for a while it looked like he was coming close to ending that streak.
Of Nadal’s 29 winners, only two of them came with his backhand.
The oldest player in the draw at 36, Haas used his expertise to give Wawrinka trouble with heavy topspin.
Wawrinka cited a back injury that occurred in colder conditions during his opening win.
“I couldn’t move too well,” he said. “It’s really nothing serious.”