Ashleigh Barty to face Coco Gauff as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both advance in Rome

Ashleigh Barty will take on teenager Coco Gauff in a blockbuster quarter-final clash at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both advanced in contrasting fashion.

World No 1 Barty opted not to defend the title she won at Roland Garros in 2019 but will go into this year’s tournament as the favourite thanks to an excellent 2021 so far.

She wore heavy strapping on her left thigh and trailed Veronika Kudermetova early on before a dispute over a line call affected the Russian, with Barty eventually winning 6-3 6-3.

Barty next faces an intriguing contest against 17-year-old Gauff, who continued her excellent week in the Italian capital with a 7-5 6-3 victory against last week’s Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka.

Gauff said: “It will be great to see where my level is. She’s the No 1 player in the world. I have no pressure on me. It definitely feels great to get three wins against three tough opponents. Hopefully I can continue that momentum into Paris.”

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Reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek saved two match points in the second set on her way to a 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 victory over Czech Barbora Krejcikova.

The 19-year-old Pole admitted she had a difficult day mentally but was proud of her efforts in coming through, saying: “It was hard to have fun. I had fun when I played drop shots because today I felt them really good.

“Overall it wasn’t fun. It was kind of brutal for me. I asked myself a question, what would annoy me in that situation, so I tried to do that. Sometimes it didn’t look pretty, but I’m happy that I could do that. One year ago I wouldn’t even come up with a solution like that. That’s progress.”

Serena Williams’ conqueror, Nadia Podoroska, was unable to make it further, losing 3-6 6-1 6-2 to Petra Martic, while there were also wins for Jessica Pegula and Karolina Pliskova.

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Like Swiatek, Nadal also saved two match points against Denis Shapovalov as he battled into the quarter-finals.

The clay-court master has looked a little shaky on the red stuff so far despite winning a title in Barcelona and he was staring at his earliest loss in Rome for 13 years.

He trailed by a set and 3-0 and saved two match points at 5-6 in the deciding set before digging out a 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) victory.

Djokovic had no such worries against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, making short work of the Spaniard 6-2 6-1 as fans returned to the Foro Italico for the first time this year.

He will next face what should be a much tougher test against Monte Carlo Masters champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated Italian No 1 Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Giant American Reilly Opelka reached his second Masters quarter-final with a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 victory over Aslan Karatsev.

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