German veteran Tommy Haas provided a telling reminder of his claycourt skills with a third-round victory over Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka at the Rome Masters on Thursday.
Haas recovered after trailing by a set and a break of serve to win 5-7 6-2 6-3 and reach the last eight at the Italian event for the first time since 2002 when he lost to Andre Agassi in the final.
World number one Rafa Nadal will face Britain’s Andy Murray in the quarter-finals after the Spaniard fought back from a set down to beat Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny 6-7(4) 6-2 6-1.
Nadal had been involved in a dogfight with Frenchman Gilles Simon until late on Wednesday and looked weary as Youzhny pegged him back by claiming the first set on a tiebreak and breaking early in the second.
But the 13-times grand slam winner, who has endured a mixed start to the claycourt season by his own high standards, turned on the afterburners, winning 11 straight games to take the match away from his opponent.
Murray celebrated his 27th birthday with a determined display to beat Austria’s Juergen Melzer 7-6(1) 6-4.
The last time Murray and Nadal met was in a hardcourt encounter in Tokyo in 2011 in which the Briton came out on top, but the Spaniard holds the upper hand overall in their rivalry with a 13-5 win-loss record.
In the women’s tournament, also being played at the Foro Italico, second seed Li Na snapped her career-long jinx against Australian Samantha Stosur, winning 6-3 6-1 having lost their previous six meetings.
World number one Serena Williams plays Varvara Lepchenko later with the winner facing Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, who hit 22 winners to beat Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-4.
The 36-year-old Haas, who reached the French Open quarter-finals last year for the first time in his career, produced some inspirational tennis to frustrate Wawrinka.
“I just tried to focus on what I was doing well and all of a sudden it clicked,” 15th seed Haas told Sky Sports. “Once you are in a third set anything can happen.”
Third seed Wawrinka, champion in Monte Carlo this year and fancied for a strong run at the French Open later this month, became involved in a dispute with the umpire early in the second set and his form tailed off.
Haas plays Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals after the Bulgarian upset sixth seed Tomas Berdych 6-7(3) 6-2 6-2.
Also through is big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic who saw off Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 6-4.
Scurrying Spaniard David Ferrer ground down Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis 6-2 6-3 to set up a potential quarter-final against second seed Novak Djokovic, who faces Philipp Kohlschreiber later on Thursday.