Rome: The preparation of Roger Federer met with a major jolt as he was defeated in the third round of the Italian open by 16th seed Richard Gasquet. In a close match he lost 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) to Gasquet.

Federer had won his last eight meetings against Gasquet but made a series of uncharacteristic errors from the baseline as the match wore on to let the Frenchman draw even and eventually take control.

"I definitely feel I should never have lost this match," Federer said. 

Earlier, Rafael Nadal overcame a virus to beat fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-2. The start of the match wasdelayed by about 20 minutes as Nadal considered withdrawing.

"I had a fever last night and this morning I didn't feel better," Nadal said.

In his opening match on Wednesday, Nadal struggled past 148th-ranked qualifier Paolo Lorenzi in three sets.

To keep his No. 1 ranking for at least one more week, Nadal will need to beat Marin Cilic of Croatia in the quarterfinals. Otherwise, Novak Djokovic could claim the top spot by winning the tournament.

Later, Djokovic was attempting to extend his 35-match winning streak against 14th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka.

Fourth-ranked Andy Murray advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Potito Starace of Italy, and will next meet Florian Mayer of Germany, who beat Juan Ignacio Chela 7-5, 6-4.

Gasquet's quarterfinal opponent will be seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych, who held off Finnish qualifier Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-2.

This tournament is a key warm up event for the French Open, which starts in 10 days, and it is one of only three Masters Series events that Federer has never won.

Federer didn't seem to think the loss would affect his performance at Roland Garros.

"I'll definitely be happy to take two, three, four days off to get mentally fresh and then practice very hard," he said.

It looked like Federer was going to advance easily when he won 10 straight points to open the encounter, but the 16-time Grand Slam winner squandered a 4-2 lead in the second
set, then failed to convert two break points that would have given him a chance to serve out the match.

Federer missed several backhands in the second-set tiebreaker and floated another backhand long on Gasquet's first match point in the deciding tiebreaker.

In all, Federer committed 30 unforced errors to Gasquet's 19.

The match was delayed for about 10 minutes early in the second set when water mysteriously began leaking onto the corner of the court.

In women's action on a cloudless day at the Foro Italico, French Open champion Francesca Schiavone roused her home crowd by rallying to beat Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.

(Agencies)