In the midst of a harrowing three matches in a single day, Spain’s Rafael Nadal kept his gold-medal quest alive by sweeping France’s Gilles Simon 7-6 (5) 6-3 on Thursday to advance to the 2016 Rio Games quarterfinals.
Nadal will next face either Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci or Belgium’s David Goffin in the quarterfinals Friday, but that comes after his men’s doubles semifinal beside Marc Lopez against Canada’s Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil, and the first-round of mixed doubles with Garbine Muguruza versus the Czech Republic’s Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek.
Since none of Rio’s courts have a roof, a rain postponement moved 26 matches from Wednesday to Thursday, and put the oft-injured Nadal in the middle of a trio of matches as he hopes to win gold for the first time since 2008 in Beijing and second overall of his career.
Though he went to Brazil, Nadal wasn’t even sure if he would compete in the tournament until working out with Spain’s national team and ultimately decided to participate after mulling the choice for a couple of days.
Despite his uncertainty, Nadal’s looked quite sharp in Rio and has yet to lose a set in the shortened format. He already dropped Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 6-2 6-1 in the first round and overcame Italy’s Andreas Seppi in the second 6-3 6-3.
After his harrowing tour of every Rio event, Nadal would likely prefer to face the known quantity Bellucci rather than Goffin. The 30-year-old Nadal is a perfect 5-0 against Bellucci and has never lost a set to him, most recently claiming a 6-4 6-2 6-4 victory in the early stages of Wimbledon last year.
Nadal’s never faced Goffin, who’s five years his junior and is the world’s No. 13 ranked player, and beat top 10-ranked Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych during ATP tournaments this year.
Should Nadal advance, he seems almost destined to meet defending Olympic champion Andy Murray in the finals with previous favorite and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic stunningly eliminated in the first round. Nadal would’ve likely met Djokovic in the semifinals as they shared the top half of the bracket.
Murray is presently squaring off against Italy’s Fabio Fognini, and the pair of split their four prior matches with Murray last winning in Valencia back in 2014.
Both Murray and Nadal are hoping to be the first to win two Olympic golds in tennis.