Kei Nishikori squandered an early lead and went down in three sets against Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the third round of the Italian Open on Thursday.

World No. 6 Zverev, the sixth seed, dug himself out of a hole to finish off the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and set up a clash with third-ranked Rafael Nadal in the French Open tuneup in the Foro Italico stadium in Rome.

“He was taking more chances towards the end and to me it felt like he was making all his shots,” the 45th-ranked Nishikori said.

“I think I lost today because I couldn’t keep my focus,” he added.

Nishikori built a 4-1 lead in the final set but watched his chances of advancing to the quarterfinals at the ATP Masters 1000 event slip away as he lost five straight games on the red clay.

It was the second straight tournament that Nishikori has been knocked out by the German. At the Masters 1000 event in Madrid earlier in May, Zverev beat the Japanese in straight sets in the round of 32 and went on to claim the title, his second of the year.

In the men’s doubles, the Japan-South African team of Ben McLachlan and Raven Klaasen were eliminated in the second round with a 6-3, 6-2 loss against American Rajeev Ram and Britain’s Joe Salisbury.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the quarterfinals in the men’s singles, needing just 70 minutes to sweep past Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 6-1, with the Foro Italico venue filled to 25% capacity for the first time amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was not good, it was great. I missed the crowd,” said the 33-year-old Djokovic.

Nadal, a nine-time champion, had to save two match points against Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) battle that lasted over 3 hours.

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