Nadal, Federer and Djokovic into quarter-finals
ROME: Favourites Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic made short work of their third round opponents in the ATP Rome claycourt Masters here on Thursday to cruise into Friday's quarter-finals.
World number one Nadal was the most emphatic winner dropping a solitary game in a 6-1, 6-0 hammering of world number 27 Robin Soderling of Sweden.
Federer lost just five games as he gained revenge on Czech 16th seed Radek Stepanek, his quarter-final conqueror a year ago, with a 6-4, 6-1 victory in just 1hr 8min.
Djokovic spent five minutes less on court and lost only two games in a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing of usuallly dependable 13th-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo.
But it was clay king Nadal who was the most impressive as he took his unbeaten run on the surface to 27 matches since losing in the second round here a year ago to Juan Carlos Ferrero.
The match began as a baseline slugfest but after Soderling won the opening game, he never got another look in as Nadal bludgeoned his way to victory in 1hr 24min.
"I think the match was really tough, if not the result," insisted Nadal. "In the beginning I was winning 4-1 but at the same time I could have been losing 4-1.
"I think I played really well. It was one of my best matches on clay this year or maybe even in my career."
Nadal will play Spanish sixth seed Fernando Verdasco in the last eight after he beat France's Richard Gasquet 7-5, 6-4.
A year ago Federer struggled to cope with Stepanek's aggressive net play in a 7-6, 7-6 defeat but this time around the recently-married Swiss maestro was a transformed player.
And he insisted that defeat had not been playing on his mind this time out.
"Well, you think about it if you haven't played him again since, but I played him three times since the match here last year: the US Open, I think, and Madrid and Shanghai. So I got three wins there," he said.
"I played very solid against him and I really told myself I have to be very disciplined in my play today, the way I play my tactical game against him and just the way I have to focus."
He broke the 30-year-old's opening service game when the Czech plopped a poor drop shot into the net.
World number two Federer looked to be comfortably serving out the set until he was surprisingly broken in the ninth game when he fired a forehand long.
That, however, seemed to focus the 13-time Grand Slam-winner, who romped through the next six games and after Stepanek held, Federer finished off the match with two aces.
The 27-year-old, a finalist here in 2003 and 2006, will face qualifier Mischa Zverev of Germany next after he stunned France's eighth seed Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-1.
Reigning champion Djokovic was in scintillating form, breaking his opponent six times in a totally one-sided contest that bodes well for the Serbian's chances of retaining his title.
The only blip for the world number three came in the fourth game of the second set when he dropped serve, but otherwise it was plain sailing.
Having had a day off following a comfortable second round victory over Spain's Albert Montanes late on Tuesday, Djokovic looked fresh as dark clouds threatened to bring play to a stop at the Foro Italico.
"I felt quite good. I had a day off yesterday, which helped me to recover from the late-night second round and just get some more practice," said the Serbian.
"It was quite strange because Tommy was making a lot of unforced errors, so he didn't put a lot of pressure on me."
Djokovic will play fifth-seeded Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the last eight after he beat last year's runner-up Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss 10th seed, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3.
Earlier Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco continued his surprise progress as he knocked out 15th seeded Croatian Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-4 a day after stunning world number four Andy Murray of Britain 1-6, 6-3, 7-5.
He will next play Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, the 12th seed, who ousted durable Austrian Jurgen Melzer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.