Melbourne: Rafa Nadal was keeping his fingers crossed for the second week of the Australian Open after reaching the quarter-finals with a comfortable 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez on Sunday.
Since winning his sole title at Melbourne Park in 2009, the 25-year-old has been ushered out of the year`s first grand slam on the back of injuries at the quarter-final stage.
The second seed arrived this year under another injury cloud and had his left foot strapped by a physiotherapist early in the first set against Lopez on Sunday.
The 10-times grand slam champion still moved nimbly enough to wear down his 30-year-old opponent in searing 35 degree Celcius heat, however, and sealed the match in less than two-and-a-half hours when Lopez looped a service return wide.
Memories of his last eight withdrawal against Andy Murray two years ago and defeat at the hands of David Ferrer last year still clearly haunt him.
"Hopefully it won`t happen this time," Nadal told reporters with a smile. "Every year is different. I had a bad experience for the last two years here. It`s tough to have to go out of a tournament like Australia in quarter-finals.”
"In 2010 I retired because I couldn`t continue. Last year I decided not to retire but I had a problem in the second or third game of the match. So I played one complete match with very bad feelings."
Coming off three lop-sided victories, Nadal encountered much stiffer resistance from his Davis Cup team mate, a fellow left-hander whose chipping and charging to the net had the Mallorcan repeatedly on the back-foot at Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal, who has yet to drop a set at the Australian Open this year, said he was very happy with the way he was playing and that his serve was functioning well.
"I think I started the tournament playing really well this time," said Nadal, who will face either Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych or another Spaniard in Nicolas Almagro in the last eight.
"Sometimes in a few tournaments I feel that I am improving day by day.”
"But this time I felt I played well the first day and two days ago I played well. And today I played another complete match in my opinion, a serious match.”
"But now I arrive to quarter-finals. It`s the moment to keep playing well and to try to go a little bit more. That`s all. In general, I am doing the right things. I am in the right place, at the right moment.”
"So now I have to keep playing well and try, if it`s possible, to improve a little bit."
Lopez disagreed with his friend in as much as he thought Nadal was improving as well as being, crucially, fully fit.
"He`s in a good shape," he told reporters. "If you take the match he played today, I think he`s 100 percent physically, which is very important for him.”
"I think he`s playing better and better every day."
I`ve always said the person who wins the world championship this year is the person who does the best job on the circuit, but that does not seem the way it is at the moment.