RAFAEL NADAL is anticipating a “tough” quarter-final when he faces Fabio Fognini in the Italian Open tomorrow.
The Spaniard overcame Canadian prodigy Denis Shapovalov in the last 16 earlier today having moved on from his Madrid Open misery without any problems.
Nadal failed to defend his title in Spain after beating knocked out by Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, causing the 16-time Grand Slam champion to cede No 1 spot to rival Roger Federer.
He would replace the Swiss legend at the summit if he were to go all the way in Rome, however, having only made the final eight of the Masters 1000 event last year where he also lost to Thiem.
But to at least reach the semis this time around he must overcome Fognini, who has seen off the challenges of Gael Monfils, Madrid runner-up Thiem and Peter Gojowczyk to get this far at Foro Italico.
And Nadal - a seven-time champion in Rome although he has lost in the quarter-finals in all of the last three years - is braced for a strenuous encounter.
"It was a tough first set," Nadal said after beating Shapovalov.
"I'm happy for the victory against a difficult opponent and looking forward to the quarter-final.
"He [Fognini] is a tough player and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Nadal is clearly wary of Fognini’s ability having also hailed the home hope earlier this week.
Rafael Nadal is looking for an eighth career Italian Open title
Discussing the transition of the Madrid Open to Rome after Thiem’s exit to Fognini, Nadal said: “It’s always difficult, Madrid.
“It’s the most special event in our clay-court season. In terms of conditions it’s the most different one.
“Dominic had a great opponent, Fabio is a great player with great talent.
“When he’s playing well, he’s able to win against everyone. Fabio played a great match.”
Nadal is expected on Centre Court to face Fognini at around 11am.