Rafael Nadal, enjoying his best season on clay in two years, booked a quarter-final clash against Austria’s Dominic Thiem, whom he beat in the Madrid Masters final last week, after an “aggressive” 6-3, 6-4 win over American Jack Sock, seeded 13th.
Novak 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 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 win over Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori.
Nadal, a seven-time champion in Rome and now on a 17-match claycourt winning streak, also swept Djokovic aside in the semis in Madrid.
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 optimise my game to get it to the highest possible level at the moment … right now, as days are passing by, I feel more comfortable on the court, more confident hitting the ball.”
It kept Djokovic on track to meet Nadal in the semis after the Spaniard ended Sock’s hopes in 1hr 20min.
“It was a good victory against Jack, he’s a tough opponent. He hit the ball hard with a lot of spin,” said Nadal.
“I played a more aggressive game and I’m serving better. I can play a bit more aggressive than the way I played tonight, but overall I’m happy.
“Tomorrow I’m up against Dominic, he’s a player who’s having more success on clay so it will be another tough battle.”
Thiem saved three match points in beating Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7).