ROME - Holder Novak Djokovic staged a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 comeback over Argentine Juan Monaco to earn a place in the quarter-finals at a windy Rome Masters on Thursday. With gusts making life a challenge on the red clay, top seed Djokovic had to smash a racquet into useless bits of composite material to get himself going after losing the opening set to “Pico,” best friend of Rafael Nadal on the ATP.

The outburst came after the Argentine had finally converted on a fifth set point in the blustery conditions. The Serb went down a break in the second set but got it back with one more for insurance as he levelled at a set apiece. It took a break for 5-3 in the final set to put the Serb into position to close out victory on his second match point.

Djokovic finished with 16 winners and 40 unforced errors, a symptom of the windy conditions which have bothered players all week. He now leads Monaco 6-0 as the pair played for the first time on the South American’s preferred surface. Rome is one of the four Masters 1000 titles which Djokovic has won in multiple editions, along with Indian Wells, Miami and Canada.

Spanish sixth seed David Ferrer knocked out French 11th seed Gilles Simon 6-0, 7-6 (7/5), while Madrid finalist Tomas Berdych, seeded seventh, reached the last eight as he put out Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (7/3), 6-3. On the women’s side, top seed Victoria Azarenka faces a French Open fitness battle after a right shoulder injury forced her to withdraw before her third-round match.

The Belarus player pulled out prior to her third-round match, handing a walkover win to Slovak Dominika Cibulkova. With just 10 days until the start of the French Open, the Belarusian will hope for a quick recovery ahead of her bid for a second straight grand slam title.

Wimbledon winner and fourth seed Petra Kvitova battled to overcome Romanian Sorona Cirstea 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 while German 12th seed Angelique Kerber beat German compatriot Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-1. Italy’s Flavia Pennetta continued to thrill home fans, crushing Petra Cetkovska 6-0, 6-1.

On Wednesday late night action, Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer in third round without any problem. Nadal slayed a mental dragon as he earned revenge against Florian Mayer 6-1, 7-5 after losing to the German last autumn in Shanghai.

Second seed Nadal won the first set on a double break, with a break for 6-5 in the second paving the way to the win. “The first set was important,” said the Spaniard. “I felt good with my forehand. It’s tough to play Mayer, he gives you on rhythm.” Federer’s tough opponent in the Madrid final seventh seed Tomas Berdych also progressed with a 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Lukas Kubot although two seeds did not make it.

Federer’s compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, a one-time finalist here, upset Serb eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-1 while Italy’s Andreas Seppi gave the home crowd a cheer as he rallied past giant American John Isner 2-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5. In the women’s tournament, Czech Petra Cetkovska upset third seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 with the Pole losing her eighth match of the year, with six of those defeats coming at the hands of Victoria Azarenka.

Australian fifth seed Samantha Stosur defeated Italian Sara Errani 6-3, 7-5 while Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues advanced 6-4, 5-0 as former number one Caroline Wozniacki had to quit with breathing problems. Both Williams sisters won against Russians, with ninth seed Serena Williams beating Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 and Venus Williams stopping Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (9/7), 6-1. Top seed Victoria Azarenka’s match with talented Israeli Shahar Peer was the last one on court and the world number one wasted no time in getting off it with a 6-1, 6-2 victory.