Paris: Four-time champion Rafael Nadal clinched his 200th claycourt win on Monday to move into the French Open quarter-finals, but only after undergoing a tough examination by Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci.
Second seed Nadal claimed a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 win and will face 19th seeded compatriot Nicolas Almagro, who won an all-Spanish battle against seventh seeded Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, for a semi-final spot.
Third seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic also made the last eight with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over America’s Robby Ginepri.
He will face Austria’s Jurgen Melzer, who ended Russian qualifier Teimuraz Gabashvili’s run with a 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win.
Nadal is bidding to become only the second man to win five or more French Open men’s titles, but he was distinctly under-cooked on Court Philippe Chatrier, dropping serve four times in a match featuring 12 service breaks.
Nadal insisted that his first round victory against Bellucci here in 2008 was a far tougher prospect.
“That was probably my hardest match of the 2008 tournament. I was closer to losing a set then than I was today,” he said.
“It was difficult. Bellucci is a very good player on clay, but I won in three sets. It was my best match of the tournament.”
Nadal, who turns 24 on Thursday, broke his 22-year-old opponent in the first game of the match before the Brazilian hit back to level at 2-2.
But the Spaniard took immediate revenge, claiming a double break in the fifth and seventh games on his way to pocketing the first set.
Twice in the second set, fellow left-hander Bellucci, beaten by the world number two in the first round in 2008, gallantly retrieved breaks, but remained unable to capitalise as Nadal stretched to a two-sets lead.
Bellucci dropped serve again in the opening game of the third set, only for Nadal to hand it straight back.
The Spaniard recovered to lead 3-2 and took the match after 2hr 33min when Bellucci, whose high-risk strategy sparked 40 unforced errors, netted a service return.
Victory was particularly sweet as it was at the same last 16 stage in 2009 where Nadal was sent crashing to a first Roland Garros defeat by Robin Soderling.
Djokovic, scheduled to face Nadal in the last four, is convinced that the confident way he swept past Ginepri makes him a threat both to the Spaniard and champion Roger Federer.
He will face Melzer, the oldest man left in the draw at 29, and who became the first Austrian to make the last eight since former champion Thomas Muster in 1998.
“I think I have a good chance against anybody on the court now,” insisted 23-year-old Djokovic, a semi-finalist in 2007 and 2008.
“It took me time to get into a rhythm, but I’m not a morning person. I lost focus, but I overcame it. I was aggressive, I was serving well, and playing from all over the court.”
Meanwhile, 22nd seed Melzer ended the run of world number 114 Gabashvili, the Georgia-born Russian who put out American sixth seed Andy Roddick in the third round.
Gabashvili, who hadn’t won back-to-back matches on the tour all year before Roland Garros, was hoping to be the first qualifier to reach the quarter-finals since Uruguay’s Marcelo Filippini in 1999.
But Melzer, who put out Spanish ninth seed David Ferrer in the third round, triumphed in five minutes short of three hours with Gabashvili’s 45 unforced errors proving decisive.
“It’s very slippery out there on Court Suzanne Lenglen,” said Melzer, who has never got this far in a Grand Slam.
“I knew he had played a lot of matches and he would have to win three more ad I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. I made him hit a lot of balls.”