ROME — Second seed Novak Djokovic said he is on track to raise his game for the French Open after reaching the Rome Masters quarterfinals Thursday with a 6-4, 6-4 third round win over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
Djokovic, beaten in the final by Britain’s Andy Murray last year, will now face Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters after the unseeded Argentinian’s third round 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 win over Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori.
Rafael Nadal, enjoying his best season on clay in two years, will look to book his place in the last eight later when he meets American Jack Sock, seeded 13th.
The Spaniard, a seven-time champion in Rome, swept Djokovic aside in the semifinals of the Madrid Masters last week before going on to secure the title.
But French Open champion Djokovic said: “I’m getting closer, I feel like today’s match was one of the better ones I’ve played on clay this season, and in the past couple of months.
“It’s coming at the right time, we’re getting closer to Roland Garros. All the players are looking to raise their game for Paris.
“I’ve been doing my best to optimize my game… right now, as days are passing by, I feel more comfortable on the court.”
Another playing looking to up his game for the French Open is 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka but the world No. 3 from Switzerland said a lack of confidence was to blame for his shock 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 defeat to big-serving American John Isner, who is ranked 24th in the world.
“When you lack confidence and rhythm, against opponents like (Benoit) Paire and Isner, it’s not ideal,” said Wawrinka, who had beaten Frenchman Paire 6-3, 6-4 Wednesday.
“I had some chances to break him at the start of the match, but I didn’t push him hard enough.
“My game and my physical condition are there. But confidence, you can lose it quickly. But I’ll keep fighting.”
Isner, meeting Wawrinka for the first time in six years, will now meet Marin Cilic after the sixth seed from Croatia beat Belgian David Goffin, the ninth seed, 6-3, 6-4.
In the women’s tournament, Venus Williams overcame determined Briton Johanna Konta to win their third-round clash 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
In the absence of sister and defending champion Serena, she will now meet Spain’s Garbine Muguruza Friday for a place in the semis and a possible match-up with Czech second seed Karolina Pliskova.
Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova, the seventh seed, won’t be going so far after she exited following a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 defeat to Australian qualifier Daria Gavrilova.
Gavrilova will meet Dutch 15th seed Kiki Bertens after she beat unseeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (7/3), 6-1.
Earlier there was disappointment for home fans as Fabio Fognini, who beat top seed Andy Murray Tuesday, was outplayed 6-3 6-3 by Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
Fognini failed to reproduce the sparkling form that did for Murray and blew his top in the second set over a line call, arguing with umpire Mohamed Lahyani.
Lahyani got out of his chair to check a mark at Fognini’s request, but told the Italian to “stop talking” after the Italian continued to vent his anger.
Zverev, who turned 20 last month, wrapped up the second set 6-3, and will play Canada’s Milos Raonic, the No. 5 seed, next after he beat Tomas Berdych.
Federer smart to target quicker surfaces: Djokovic
Roger Federer made a smart decision by pulling out of this month’s French Open, where he has less chance of adding to his 18 grand slam titles than on the sport’s quicker surfaces, world number two Novak Djokovic said on Thursday.
Federer, who announced his withdrawal from the May 28-June 11 claycourt major Monday, said he felt he needed to avoid playing on clay this season to help prolong his career.
“You know, he’s very smart in his decision-making… He knows what he’s doing,” 12-times major winner Djokovic told reporters.
“Of course he’s aware he has much better chance to win big trophies on quicker surfaces.”
Federer defied age and logic to win the Australian Open in January after a knee injury kept him out of tennis for six months, and followed that up with two more high-profile titles at Indian Wells and Miami.
The 35-year-old, fifth-ranked Swiss is now focused on being in top form for Wimbledon, which begins on July 3 and where he is a seven-time champion.
“Grass obviously is where he feels the most comfortable,” Djokovic said.
“I’m not too surprised with this (French Open) decision. I mean, he had a lot of matches played at the beginning of the year, and he did amazingly well.” — Agencies