Rafael Nadal’s play at the French Open has come under scrutiny in recent days as the superstar has struggled to dominate opponents, but the Spaniard had no problems on Monday as he cruised past Kei Nishikori to advance to the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3.
Playing on his birthday, Nadal finished off the No. 13 seed with an impressive array of ground strokes and consistent serving. Nadal won 72 percent of his first serves and did not double fault in the match. He hit 20 winners compared to 14 by Nishikori.
The 23-year-old Japanese star had a chance to make the match interesting when he had a break point in the second game of set two, but Nadal battled back. It was still an impressive tournament run for Nishikori, who became the first Japanese man to reach the fourth round since 1938.
The Court Philippe Chatrier crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Nadal following the match, and a huge cake was wheeled onto the court. The 27-year-old Spaniard has been a ubiquitous figure at Roland Garros after winning seven titles in the past eight years.
"To celebrate my birthday here on centre court in Paris is a very special moment for me,” Nadal said.
"Today I played a bit better than in the previous days."
It was the second-straight three-set victory for Nadal, who needed four sets to beat Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan in the first and second round, respectively. In the third round, Nadal defeated Fabio Fognini, but the Italian kept the match competitive with a tie-breaker in the first set, and won four games in each of the following sets.
Nadal will face the winner of Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet on Wednesday.
The quarterfinals are stacked with notable names. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Tommy Haas have secured a spot in the final eight.