MONTE CARLO: Top-ranked Roger Federer of Switzerland beat Benjamin Balleret of Monaco 6-3, 6-2 in a third-round match at the Monte Carlo Masters on Thursday.

Federer, who has reached his third quarterfinal here, will advance to the semifinals for the first time if he beats David Ferrer of Spain on Friday.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion Federer improved to 31-1 overall this year, with second-ranked Rafael Nadal posting the lone win against him.

Balleret provided some resistance, and was level at 2-2 in each set, but Federer simply stepped up a gear.

Nalbandian exits

In other matches, Tommy Robredo of Spain beat David Nalbandian of Argentina 5-7, 6-1, 7-5, Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia beat Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 6-2, and Ferrer beat countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3.

"It's the first match of my life on centrecourt here, and I hope it's not my last," said Ljubicic.

Ljubicic is 30-4 overall this year with titles at Chennai and Zagreb.

Ferrero's agony

Eleventh-seeded Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion, saved a match point with a neat drop shot but lost when he was at full stretch retrieving from the baseline and his return bounced out.

Ferrer now leads Ferrero 3-1 in head-to-head matches, and improved to 14-9 overall for the season. Although both clay-court specialists, it was their first meeting on the surface.

Meanwhile in doubles, the duo of Mahesh Bhupathi and Radek Stepanek sailed into the quarterfinals beating the fourth-seeded pairing of Leander Paes and Martin Damm 6-1, 6-4.

The results:

Third round: Roger Federer bt Benjamin Balleret 6-3, 6-2; Tommy Robredo bt David Nalbandian 5-7, 6-1, 7-5; Ivan Ljubicic bt Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-2; David Ferrer bt Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3.

Second round: Ferrer bt Dominik Hrbaty 6-4, 3-6, 6-4; Rafael Nadal bt Jean-Rene Lisnard 6-4, 6-1; Gaston Gaudio bt Jose Acasuso 6-3, 3-6, 6-4; Fernando Gonzalez bt Feliciano Lopez 6-7(4), 6-2, 7-5.

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