World number one Novak Djokovic and defending champion Rafael Nadal welcomed the decision to allow a limited number of fans to watch the Italian Open as the top men’s seeds advanced to the quarter-finals on Friday.
Italy’s government have said that 1,000 spectators can be present at the Foro Italico from Sunday’s semi-finals, with matches so far being played in empty courts.
“If it’s safe enough, fantastic,” said Nadal after sweeping past Serb Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-3 in his third round match.
Djokovic battled past fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (9/7), 6-3, to remain on a collision course for a final showdown with Nadal for a second consecutive year.
“A thousand people is better than no people, for sure, because we all miss the fans,” said Djokovic.
Men’s fourth seed Matteo Berrettini, the only Italian remaining in the tournament, regretted he could not benefit from spectators for his quarter-final against Norway’s Casper Rudd on Saturday.
“A thousand people isn’t insignificant, it’s a thousand motivations,” said Berrettini.
Nadal proved too strong for 25th-ranked Lajovic, who had valiantly but vainly launched a fightback after trailing 4-0 in the second set to the Spaniard.
But Krajinovic made long-time friend Djokovic work hard to reach the quarter-finals for the 14th time, just one fewer than Nadal. Djokovic double faulted on the first of his three set points in the first-set tiebreak but a quick break in the second put him through in a tournament he has won four times.
“Never easy, I think, emotionally to play against someone that is one of my best friends for many years,” said Djokovic.
The top seed is warming up for the French Open in 10 days time, having made the switch from the American hard court tour where he won the Cincinnati tournament played in Flushing Meadows before the US Open from which he was disqualified.
He next plays German qualifier Dominik Koepfer who ended the run of Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0.
World number two Nadal takes on Argentine eighth seed Diego Schwartzman, who dropped a set before recovering to see off Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Nadal, 34, won his first Rome title back in 2005, and is bidding for a third consecutive crown on clay in the Italian capital and 10th in total.
The 12-time French Open champion is returning to competition, having not played since winning in Acapulco in February.
Halep, Pliskova advance
Simona Halep and defending women’s champion Karolina Pliskova both eased into the quarter-finals of the Italian Open on Friday.
Top seed Halep rallied from 3-0 down in the first set to see off Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska in a 7-5, 6-4 victory that took one hour and 28 minutes.
“Big picture, I think it was a great match and gives me confidence that even in these conditions with a big hitter that I could win in two sets,” said Halep.
The two-time Rome finalist next meets Yulia Putintseva, who battled back from 6-4, 5-2 down to see off fellow Kazakh Elena Rybakina, the 10th seed, 4-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2.
“I expect a tough battle but I feel fit,” said former French Open champion Halep, a runner-up in Rome in 2017 and 2018. “I feel good with my body. I’m ready to face her and tomorrow, hopefully, I will play better than today.”
Halep is warming up on clay for the French Open, a tournament she won in 2018, after skipping the US tour because of coronavirus fears. Her last win was in Prague a month ago.
World number four Pliskova dominated 65th-ranked Anna Blinkova 6-4, 6-3 in their third round match.
The second-seed Czech, who defended her Brisbane title in January, got off to a stumbling start with two double faults in the opening game allowing Blinkova to break.
But the 22-year-old Russian was unable to build on her advantage against the former world number one, who next meets 11th seed Elise Mertens after she got past Danta Kovinic 6-4, 6-4.
Ninth seed Garbine Muguruza advanced to her sixth quarter-final this year with a straight-sets win over last year’s Rome finalist Johanna Konta.
Both players hit 15 winners each but Briton Konta paid for 22 unforced errors to the Spaniard’s 13. Muguruza prevailed 6-4, 6-1 against seventh-seeded Konta to reach the last eight in Rome for the third time.
The former French Open winner will next face US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka who advanced after Russian Daria Kasatkina retired injured in their first set tiebreak.
Former Rome winner Elina Svitolina got past two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 (8/6), 6-4.
Fouth seed Svitolina beat Halep in both the 2017 and 2018 finals to lift the Rome title.
“I’m really thankful to play my first tournament in Rome where I have great memories,” said the Ukrainian after her six-month coronavirus-enforced break.
She next plays Czech 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova who battled past Slovenian Polona Hercog 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7/5).
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Filip Krajinovic (SRB) 7-6 (9/7), 6-3
Dominik Koepfer (GER) bt Lorenzo Musetti (ITA) 6-4, 6-0
Matteo Berrettini (ITA x4) bt Stefano Travaglia (ITA) 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/1)
Casper Ruud (NOR) bt Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-2, 7-6 (8/6)
Denis Shapovalov (CAN x12) bt Ugo Humbert (FRA) 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-4
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x15) bt Jannik Sinner (ITA) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Diego Schwartzman (ARG x8) bt Hubert Hurkacz (POL) 3-6, 6-2, 6-4
Rafael Nadal (ESP x2) bt Dusan Lajovic (SRB) 6-1, 6-3
Simona Halep (ROM x1) bt Dayana Yastremska (UKR) 7-5, 6-4
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) bt Elena Rybakina (KAZ x10) 4-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) bt Darya Kasatkina (RUS) 6-6 retired
Garbine Muguruza (ESP x9) bt Johanna Konta (GBR x7) 6-4, 6-1
Marketa Vondrousova (CZE x12) bt Polona Hercog (SLO) 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7/5)
Elina Svitolina (UKR x4) bt Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 7-6 (8/6), 6-4
Elise Mertens (BEL x11) bt Danka Kovinic (MNE) 6-4, 6-4
Karolína Pliskova (CZE x2) bt Anna Blinkova (RUS) 6-4, 6-3