Nadal advances at Monte Carlo as Djokovic goes out
By JEROME PUGMIRE
MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on course to retain his Monte Carlo Masters title and won't have Novak Djokovic standing in his way.
The top-ranked Nadal beat big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov 6-3, 6-2 on Friday to reach the quarterfinals, clinching victory with a clinical smash at the net. The 10-time champion next faces fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem, who earlier won 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-3 against Djokovic.
Thiem can take confidence from having beaten Nadal twice on clay, including in the quarterfinals of last year's Rome Masters.
"It's a way better feeling if you go against him and know that you've beaten him already on this surface," Thiem said. "It's the ultimate challenge to play against him. I have to raise my level again."
Djokovic was once Nadal's nemesis, even on clay. He ended the Spanish player's 46-match winning run by beating him in the 2013 final, and then won the tournament in 2015.
But the former top-ranked Serb, who has won 12 majors, is searching for form and confidence now.
A day after needing 10 match points to advance, Djokovic didn't even come close to getting one. Although he says he is finally playing pain-free after two years of struggles with a persistent right elbow injury, he was often on the back foot against Thiem.
He saved one match point against Thiem, but indecision cost him on the second as the ninth-seeded Djokovic seemed to change his mind over which shot to play at the net.
Djokovic did save three set points in the first set, and the momentum carried over into the tiebreak. But his backhand let him down after that, with Thiem getting consecutive breaks and holding for the second set when his opponent patted a two-handed backhand into the net.v
Still, Thiem believes he will be back competing for big titles before too long.
"I think he's on the rise again, for sure," Thiem said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to see him at the very top of the game pretty soon."
Nadal's victory could have been even more efficient, but he surprisingly dropped his serve in the seventh game of the first set. He broke straight back and then took complete control.
Third seed Alexander Zverev beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, but missed out on facing his older brother Mischa Zverev in the last eight. He lost 6-2, 7-5 to Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
Second seed Marin Cilic advanced without hitting a ball after Milos Raonic pulled out through injury. The Australian Open runner-up next plays Kei Nishikori or Andreas Seppi.
Raonic said he hurt his right knee during his second-round win on Wednesday.
"It was difficult yesterday early in the match, I rotated on my knee. I thought through treatment and so-forth it would be better," Raonic said. "I was predisposed to some risk and I was unable to play with that amount of pain. I'll know more in the (coming) days."
Sixth seed David Goffin defeated Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 7-5 in a match that included a bizarre incident involving a ball boy.
After losing his serve to trail 4-1, Bautista Agut cleared a ball from the back of the court as a ball boy was sprinting across. The ball, which was traveling slowly, bounced and clipped the ball boy on the head.
The Spanish player raised a hand in apology but received a warning from the umpire. He was fined 2,500 euros ($3,100) for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Goffin, a semifinalist last year, next plays Grigor Dimitrov after the fourth-seeded Bulgarian beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Updated April 19, 2018