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Canada's Raonic beats Tsonga to reach Italian Open quarter-finals

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ROME - Canada's Milos Raonic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (5), 6-4 on Thursday to reach the Italian Open quarter-finals.

Raonic, the No. 8 seed from Thornhill, Ont., won five of the last six points in the first-set tiebreaker. He picked up a break in the second set en route to his first career victory over the 11th-seeded Frenchman.

Tsonga outlasted Raonic in a marathon match at the London Olympics in 2012 and beat him again last year at Indian Wells.

Raonic hit seven aces and saved five break point chances on the red clay courts at the Foro Italico. He'll make his fourth Masters 1000 Series quarter-final appearance of the season Friday against Jeremy Chardy of France.

Chardy, who upset Roger Federer of Switzerland in the second round, advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Croatia's Ivan Dodig. Raonic has yet to reach a semifinal this year.

Also Thursday, Rafael Nadal was pushed to three sets for the second consecutive match before ultimately prevailing to set up a quarterfinal against Andy Murray.

The top-ranked Nadal dropped behind a set and a break against Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, then won 11 of the final 12 games to win 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-1 on another windy day at the Foro Italico.

"Get used to (it)," Nadal said of his recent struggles. "With the years that's the normal thing. Everybody suffers. That's part of the sport."

At 27, Nadal believed his best days were probably behind him.

"At this age, (Bjorn) Borg was doing other things," said Nadal, a 13-time Grand Slam winner. "It's not possible to win for 10 years with easy scores and easy matches. At the same time, I'm sure I can do much better than I am doing."

Nadal was looking forward to facing Murray for the first time in more than two years.

"I play against one of the top players in the world after two tough days," Nadal said. "If I play well I'm going to have my chances, if not I'm going to spend the weekend (at home) in Mallorca."

Murray eliminated Jurgen Melzer of Austria 7-6 (1), 6-4 to celebrate his 27th birthday.

In an upset, the seemingly ageless Tommy Haas beat third-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.

On the women's side, Maria Sharapova's 12-match winning streak — which included titles in Stuttgart and Madrid — ended with a 6-1, 6-4 loss to Ana Ivanovic.

Showing no signs of trouble from the left thigh injury that forced her to withdraw from Madrid, defending champion Serena Williams cruised past fellow American Varvara Lepchenko 6-1, 6-2.

Pushed for three hours by Gilles Simon to nearly midnight a day earlier, Nadal didn't generate the usual depth with his groundstrokes, and began to take control only when Youzhny started committing more unforced errors.

"The conditions were very impossible," said Nadal, a seven-time Rome champion. "You always have to find the positive thing. I was able to play with the right motivation even if the feeling was not perfect."

Nadal consistently ran around his backhand, a shot that also caused him concern in recent losses to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, respectively. Of Nadal's 29 winners, only two of them came with his backhand.

Haas, the oldest player in the draw at 36, used his expertise to give Wawrinka trouble with heavy topspin.

Haas last beat a top-10 player more than a year ago in Miami, where he took out then-No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

"These things don't happen too often anymore, so when I take them I'm really proud of them," the German said. He has been winning this week in Rome for the first time since he lost the 2002 final to Andre Agassi.

Wawrinka cited a back injury that occurred in colder conditions during his opening win.

"I couldn't move too well," he said. "It's really nothing serious. It's just painful and I need some rest — maybe a few days."

Wawrinka has made a great start by winning the Australian Open and the Monte Carlo Masters but another early exit in last week's Madrid Open leaves his form in question with the French Open starting in 10 days.

Haas' quarterfinal opponent will be Grigor Dimitrov, who at 22 is the youngest player in the top 20. Dimitrov rallied past sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2.

Fifth-seeded David Ferrer beat Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-2, 6-3 and will meet either Novak Djokovic or Philipp Kohlschreiber, who were playing late.

In women's play, second-seeded Li Na defeated Sam Stosur 6-3, 6-1 and will next meet Sara Errani of Italy, who kept the crowd content by beating Czech qualifier Petra Cetkovska 6-4, 7-6 (3).

Also, third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska eliminated Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 6-1, and will play 2007 and 2008 Rome champion Jelena Jankovic, who got by Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-3.

___

With files from The Canadian Press.

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