Updated: 05/17/2013 02:51 | By Agence France-Presse

Nadal survives Gulbis test as Djokovic, Serena win

Defending champion Rafael Nadal endured a three-set thriller before overcoming big-hitting Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday to reach the Rome Masters quarter-finals.

Nadal survives Gulbis test as Djokovic, Serena win

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates defeating Latvian Ernests Gulbis during their Rome Masters tennis match on May 16, 2013. Nadal defeated Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 to reach the Rome Masters quarter-finals.

Gulbis, ranked 46th, and a winner in Rome in 2010 over Roger Federer on his way to the semi-finals, saved two match points in the third set, but finally went down when he sent a forehand wide to the massive relief of a dancing, celebrating Nadal.

The Spaniard now stands 6-0 against Gulbis as he bids for a seventh Rome title.

He will next face compatriot David Ferrer, who advanced in a walkover against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was suffering from vertigo.

"On Friday, I have a chance against against a very difficult player. I survived a tough match today. Now I have another chance to try and go farther," said Nadal.

"Being in the quarter-finals is fantastic. I'm more than pleased with what I've done since I returned (from his seven months off with knee problems)."

Nadal was fresh from his Madrid title at the weekend - his record 23rd Masters.

He has won five titles from seven finals since returning to tennis after a seven-month injury absence.

Top seed Novak Djokovic played without ankle pain in a routine 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Alexandr Dolgopolov for a quarter-final place and then spared a thought for the injury plight of rival Andy Murray.

Djokovic dispatched Dolgopolov in an hour, with five aces and 13 winners in a contest which began 45 minutes late due to morning rain.

The two-time Rome champion will next play Czech Tomas Berdych, a winner over South Africa's Kevin Anderson 7-5, 6-2.

Djokovic said that he had almost forgotten about his ankle injury since winning the title in Monte Carlo over Nadal last month.

"I've been pain-free for a week but I'm still very cautious in my warm-up and recovery. I don't think it will bother me any more and I don't think about it when I'm on the court," he said.

That was not the case for Murray, though.

The Scot is on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open, which starts a week on Sunday, after quitting his opening match in Rome against Marcel Granollers with the chronic back pain which has bothered him for almost 18 months.

Djokovic, who was particularly injury-prone in his early years, is now an iron man who stands atop the world rankings.

His most recent niggle, the ankle problem from early April, is now a thing of the past, according to the 25-year-old Serb.

Djokovic said that he is sorry to hear of the plight of Murray.

"That is not the kind of news you want on your birthday," he said of Murray, one week his elder, who turned 26 on Wednesday.

"It would be a pity if he doesn't play. He's one of the top players, it is a loss for any tournament for him to be missing."

In the women's event, world number one Serena Williams comfortably made the quarter-finals with a 6-0, 6-1 mauling of Slovakia's 14th seed Dominika Cibulkova.

Williams, who has now won 21 successive matches, will face Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro for a spot in the semi-finals.

"Nothing is ever perfect -- I learned that last year when I felt perfect," said Williams, referring to her stunning first-round loss at Roland Garros in 2012.

"I am still in the danger zone."

Williams added: "I can't remember the other winning streaks, but I hope I can get to 22 and the rest of the matches that I have here.

"Plus seven, and Wimbledon too, so it would be dangerous to lose now."

Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka also went through when Ayumi Morita retired through injury in the second set.

Unseeded two-time champion Jelena Jankovic upset 2011 Roland Garros winner Li Na, the Chinese fifth seed, 7-6 (7/2), 7-5.

"I felt like I wasn't playing so badly today, it was just a really long, tough match between me and JJ," Li said.

"I was trying a lot of things out there on the court today. Sometimes it was working, sometimes it didn't."

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