Here's my say on today's round three matches, as well as some statistics and predictions for tomorrows quarter-finals:
Injuries, upsets and draws have conspired to keep two of the "Big Four" apart since their last meeting in Tokyo 2011, but tomorrow will finally see Rafa and Andy lock horns for the 19th time. The top seed put in another strange performance earlier today, going a set and a break down to Russian Mikhail Youzhny before winning 12 of the last 13 games to book his spot in the last 8. Nadal started the clay swing in uncertain form, losing quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and his opponents have started to come out and pile the pressure on right from the off in response. Murray enjoyed a much more straightforward route to this stage, beating Jurgen Melzer in two tight sets, and the Scot has looked much more at home on the clay in Rome this week after a poor showing in Madrid.
Prediction: If Murray can come out and start fast, and Nadal struggles to get going like he has in his first two matches this week, the British no. 1 certainly has a chance of notching his first win over the King of Clay on the surface that he has made his own. However, with Murray's erratic 2014 form in mind, there's only one safe bet here. Nadal to win in two close sets.
- Murray and Nadal haven't played each other for 34 months. In the 12 months preceding their last meeting in Tokyo, they faced off six times, with Murray's only win coming at the Rakuten Open.
- The pair have never played each other in Rome before. Nadal boasts seven titles in The Eternal City, while Murray is yet to reach his first final here.
- If Nadal goes on to win this week, a further run to his 9th French Open title would see him take his career win tally to 700 in the Roland Garros final.
Grigor Dimitrov vs Tommy Haas
Tommy Haas put a stuttering start to 2014 well and truly behind him, as he came from a set down to take an excellent win against 3rd seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the first match of the day on Centrale. Clearly, there's still a lot of life in those 36 year old legs. It was down to Grigor Dimitrov to overcome 6th seed Tomas Berdych to set a tie with a man fourteen years his senior on Friday, and the young Bulgarian didn't disappoint, coming from a set down to avenge his defeat to the towering Czech in Madrid last week. Dimitrov will be looking to avoid a repeat of his last meeting with Haas, in which he lost two tie-break sets in Washington last year, in order to reach his first Masters 1000 semi-final.
Prediction: Haas has done a great job to recover from last week's opening round defeat to Igor Sijsling in Madrid, but Dimitrov is on the up and up this year, and I'm backing him to make another step towards the top of the game by progressing to the last four here. Dimitrov to win in straight sets.
- Tommy Haas last reached an ATP Masters final at this event in 2002, when Dimitrov was just 10 years old.
- This match will take place on Grigor Dimitrov's 23rd birthday, so by the time these two take to court, the age gap will only actually be a meagre thirteen years.
- A win here will guarantee that Dimitrov moves ahead of Richard Gasquet to 12th in the world rankings.
Milos Raonic vs Jeremy Chardy
Raonic continued to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on all surfaces, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets to reach his 3rd clay court quarter-final of 2014, and his 4th from five Masters 1000 events. The Canadian will fancy his chances of progressing to the last four in a week where his performances have largely gone under the radar, having defeated tomorrow's opponent Jeremy Chardy just a week ago at the Madrid Masters. The 27 year old Frenchman is looking to reach his first semi final at this level at the third attempt, having twice lost at this stage in Cincinnati.
Prediction: Chardy's headline-grabbing performance against Federer in the second round will give him a lot of confidence going into this match, and I think he'll give Milos Raonic something serious to think about. However, the Canadian will have too much for the Frenchman over the course of three sets in my opinion. Raonic to take it in three.
- Since first appearing in Rome in 2009, where he lost in the first round, Chardy has progressed one stage further in each subsequent year, a trend that will continue if he can't get past Raonic tomorrow.
- Milos Raonic has failed to win any of his last five quarter finals, since progressing to the final of Tokyo last year.
- 92 of the Canadian's 271 aces have been hit on clay so far this year.
David Ferrer vs Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic came to Rome looking for a big haul of points and a handful of wins to take to the French Open, and will be eyeing a 6th consecutive win over the Spanish no. 2 to reach the last four. The Serb was slow out of the blocks again today, going down 4-0 to Kohlschreiber in the last match of the day, but he won 16 of the next 21 games to take what was eventually a comfortable triumph. Meanwhile, David Ferrer has been in impressive form throughout the clay season, comfortably beating Ernests Gulbis for the second week running to move within one win of a hat-trick of Masters 1000 semi-finals.
Prediction: This one promises to be a real slug fest, and that will suit both these guys to a tee. Ferrer has consistently impressed me throughout the clay swing this year, despite a surprise loss to Teymuraz Gabashvili in Barcelona, so I'm going to go against the grain here and back him over Djokovic. Ferrer to win in two narrow sets.
- A win tomorrow would see Ferrer move ahead of Roger Federer in the rankings just in time to claim a top four seeding at the French Open.
- Djokovic hasn't lost a knockout match to Ferrer since Monte Carlo in 2007, the Spaniard's three wins all coming in Davis Cup rubbers or round robin ties at the Masters Cup and World Tour Finals.
- On Ferrer's last 8 visits to Rome, it's either taken Rafael Nadal to knock him out, including the 2010 final, or he's lost in his first match.