Rafael Nadal endured another slow start at the French Open on Saturday before finding his form to defeat Italy's Fabio Fognini 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-4 and qualify for the last 16. In the end it was a comfortable enough win for the seven-time defending champion, but he was made to look sluggish on occasions against an opponent he would normally be expected to dispatch in double-quick time.

"I think he (Fognini) is a fabulous player. He attacked very well, he is very quick and when he is aggressive it is very difficult to stop him, Nadal said. "To win the first set was important. In the last two matches I lost the first set.” Next up, on his 27th birthday on Monday, will be Japan's Kei Nishikori as the Spaniard continues his campaign to become the first man in tennis history to win the same Grand Slam title eight times.

Nishikori defeated Benoit Paire of France 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-1 to become the first Japanase man to reach the last 16 at Roland Garros in 75 years. There were wins too, on a day when the sun finally returned to Roland Garros, for Richard Gasquet, the fourth Frenchman into the last 16 and Russia's Mikhail Michail Youzhny. Nadal went into his 56th career match at Roland Garros in a bad mood, complaining about the cold, overcast conditions Paris has produced and "joke" Roland Garros scheduling he felt could disadvantage him against Fognini.

The seven-time champion lost the opening set of his first two ties, the first time that has happened to him in Paris, and he nearly got off to another shocker as Fognini, like Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan before him, went for broke. Dropped service games by Nadal in the fifth and 11th games produced a tie-break that the defending champion led from the start to win 7/5.

Fognini again had Nadal struggling on serve at the start of the second set, winning over the centre-court crowd with his bold tactics and expressive nature. But he failed to convert a couple of break points and, after the Italian dropped his serve and received treatment for a blister on his hand, Nadal started to race away with the match.

He pocketed the set 6-4 and when he broke at he start of the third set, the writing was on the wall for in increasingly distracted Fognini who fired his last bullets by clawing back three games to get to 5-4 before Nadal served out. If it was all straightforward enough on the Philippe Chatrier centre-court, things gut unruly out on Court 7 where Serbian Janko Tipsarevic unleased a foul-mouthed tirade at two noisy fans who kept up a running commentary during his match with Russian Youzhny.

The offending spectators were eventually sent packing, but Tipsarevic still lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. "There were two guys in the corner constantly taunting and laughing, and you could really see they didn't come to watch any tennis but just to pose," said Tipsarevic. "I just snapped, because you could really see they didn't really care, what the score was or even who was playing. They just wanted to look nice and be at the French Open. They had no respect to the players in terms of being quiet or what."

Gasquet defeated Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to join countrymen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon in the fourth round. Top seed Novak Djokovic meanwhile was in action in what was billed as the match of the day against exciting Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, hours after the announcement in Belgrade that his first coach, Jelena Gencic had died.