Rome, May 16 (EFE).- Spain's Rafael Nadal withstood a barrage of aces and winners from Ernests Gulbis and came back from a disastrous first set Thursday at the Rome Masters to pull out a 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory and advance to the quarterfinals.
A free-swinging Gulbis raced off to a 5-0 lead before Nadal finally held serve to get himself on the scoreboard.
In the second set, Nadal went up a service break before squandering it, although he was able to break Gulbis' serve a second time to avoid a tiebreaker and even the match.
The world No. 5 then seemed to take full control when he secured a break of serve in the sixth game of the third set, but the big-hitting Latvian refused to go away and broke back in the next game and then held serve for 4-4.
Unforced errors finally caught up to the world No. 46, however, as he let the match slip away by losing his serve at 4-5.
For the contest, Gulbis hit 59 winners and 50 unforced errors, compared with 13 winners and 19 unforced errors for Nadal. He also outaced the Spaniard 15-0.
The match was similar to the players' previous encounters, with the Latvian now having taken a set in all but one of their six matches but never come away with a victory.
In the post-match press conference, Gulbis gave reporters the sound bite they were looking for by claiming he was superior on the day.
"I was the better player. I was still the better player in the second set. I think I was still the better player in the third set. I was the better player in the match," Gulbis said.
"He's a champion. You have to beat him. You have to do something extraordinary. He didn't do anything special. I did the mistakes. But you have to beat the guy. He's not going to give you anything free."
The 11-time Grand Slam champion took exception to his opponent's remarks when they were relayed on to him.
"If you hit as hard as you can and that means being the best player, then perhaps he was the best player. For me, the best player is to try to find solutions against the other player. When I served for the second set and I lost, and also in the third and I still was fighting, I found solutions. So the best player won."
On Friday, Nadal will take on countryman and world No. 4 David Ferrer, who went through when an injury forced Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber to withdraw from their round of 16 match.
Second-seeded Roger Federer, meanwhile, had no difficulty in his round of 16 match Thursday, cruising to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Frenchman Gilles Simon.
Earlier in the day, Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic also advanced to the quarterfinals with a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 victory over Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov, while Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro was upset by Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
In the women's draw, American world No. 1 Serena Williams, Russian world No. 2 Maria Sharapova and Belarusian world No. 3 Victoria Azarenka all breezed into the quarterfinals with straight-set wins on Thursday.