Clay king Nadal canters through in Madrid
Madrid: Clay maestro Rafa Nadal was in cruise control in the latest phase of his French Open build-up while Robin Soderling, the man who ended the Spaniard`s Roland Garros reign, crashed out of the Madrid Open.
World number three Nadal appeared to be eyeing his third Masters title on clay this season after dismissing Ukrainian qualifier Oleksandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 6-3 in the second round.
His route to the final was made easier as well after potential semi-final opponent Soderling, who snapped Nadal`s four-year hold of the French Open title in the fourth round last May, was beaten 6-4, 7-5 by Nicolas Almagro of Spain.
Watched by Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former France captain Zinedine Zidane on an unseasonably-chilly Manolo Santana centre court, Nadal thrilled the noisy crowd with some fist-pump inducing winners.
The unorthodox Dolgopolov cracked some mighty winners of his own and mixed his game up with a few deft drop shots but never looked like mounting a consistent threat to the Spaniard`s dominance of the red dust.
The Ukrainian qualifier, 21, saved one match point on his serve but on Nadal`s second his shot clipped the top of the net and flew long to put the 23-year-old through to face American John Isner in the last 16.
"He`s very unusual and very difficult to play against and I helped him play well by playing the ball too short," a self-critical Nadal said at a news conference.
Looking ahead to his match against Isner, who is more than two metres tall and has a booming serve, Nadal said: "He`s one of the most dangerous players on the Tour.”
"You know that if you lose your serve it will be very difficult to get back into the set.”
"I will try my best to play better than today. I was practising well but I didn`t play well but I think tomorrow will be better for sure."
Andy Roddick`s preparations for the French Open were also dealt a blow when he was forced to withdraw due to a virus.
The American world number eight suffered bouts of vomiting and sweating this week and said he found it hard to focus on the ball during his first-round men`s doubles loss on Tuesday.
"Obviously, this is far from perfect in terms of preparation heading into Paris but you play the hand you are dealt," the pale-looking Roddick told a brief news conference.
"Playing well there isn`t out of the question but it`s just going to be a little bit tougher."
Third-seeded Briton Andy Murray, who has struggled since finishing runner-up to Federer at the Australian Open in January, brushed aside Argentine qualifier Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 6-3 to set up a last-16 clash against Victor Hanescu.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the French seventh seed, retired from his match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez after receiving lengthy treatment on his lower back with the Spaniard having taken the first set 6-2.