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World No. 2 Novak Djokovic stretches en route to his victory over Roberto Bautista Agut on Thursday in Rome.

Djokovic Takes Step In Return To Top Form

Former titlist awaits the winner of Nishikori or del Potro

Four-time former champion Novak Djokovic took a big step in a return to top form on Thursday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia when he booked a place in the quarter-finals for the 11th consecutive year.

The second seed produced a largely assured performance to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, one of the ATP World Tour’s cleanest hitters, 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 42 minutes. It avenged his loss to the Spaniard at the Shanghai Rolex Masters in October 2016, and Djokovic now leads 6-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

“I feel like today's match was one of the better ones that I have played this clay-court season, but also in the past couple of months. It came at the right time, of course. All the players are aiming to raise their level of tennis as we're approaching Paris, but especially here in Rome at one of the biggest and best tournaments in the world,” said Djokovic. “I would love to be able to continue playing at this level and even higher as the tournament progresses.”

He will next play Juan Martin del Potro in Friday’s quarter-finals after the Argentine ousted seventh seed Kei Nishikori. Djokovic is lead his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with del Potro 13-4, which includes a thrilling three-setter at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in February.

“I have been doing my best to optimise my game and get it to the highest possible level. I'm aware that the previous months haven't gone the way that I wished in terms of results, but I believe that the process had to happen. As days pass by, I feel more confident on the court and hitting the ball,” said Djokovic. “I like Rome and the conditions here. I have had plenty of success in the past in this tournament. I think it all affects my overall feeling here and I’m ready for the challenge.”

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One service break helped Djokovic to the 44-minute opener, but the Serbian saw a 3-1 second-set lead evaporate as Bautista Agut played with greater aggression. Djokovic came through a 14-point ninth game and minutes later secured his 18th match win of the season with a forehand winner.

Djokovic, who turns 30 on 22 May, trained with his son, Stefan, and Tomas Berdych earlier in the day at the Foro Italico, venue of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament. The World No. 2, who earned his 40th victory at the event on Thursday, lifted the Rome trophy in 2008, 2011 and 2014-15. Bautista Agut is now 0-10 lifetime on clay against opponents in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.