London – Rafael Nadal overcame an early blip to defeat Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin and reach the Wimbledon last 16, shining beneath the Centre Court roof on Saturday as heavy rain swept away the action outside.
The 2008 and 2010 champion dropped the opening set for the third time in three matches before turning things around in a 6-7 (4/7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory.
The second seeded Spaniard blitzed world number 63 Kukushkin, who had never won a match at Wimbledon before this year and had only ever beaten one top 10 player.
Nadal, the 28-year-old winner of 14 Grand Slam titles, won 17 of the last 19 games and goes on to face either Australia's rising star Nick Kyrgios or Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic for a place in the quarter-finals.
They had played just 15 minutes of their third-round match out on Court 17 before rain halted all action on the uncovered courts and forced All England Club organisers to cancel 24 doubles and junior matches by mid-afternoon.
Nadal had dropped the first set to Martin Klizan and Lukas Rosol in his first two rounds and Kukushkin, playing in his 21st tournament of the year, employed the same free-swinging tactics to bludgeon his way through the opener.
But in front of a Royal Box containing such sporting glitterati as retired Indian cricket master Sachin Tendulkar, ex-England football captain David Beckham and former Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Nadal regained his composure to race away with the win.
From 1-1 in the second set to 3-0 in the fourth set, Nadal won 14 of 15 games and only faced his first break points of the tie at 2-0 in the fourth.
Kukushkin, a rare example of a player coached by his own wife, stopped the rot by getting on the board at 1-3.
But it was a brief respite as Nadal stormed to victory with 41 winners and just 12 unforced errors.
"At the beginning he was playing pretty long, no mistakes, very aggressive and I made few unforced errors with that second serve," said Nadal who has reached the second week for the first time since 2011.
"In the tie-break, I didn't serve my best and that was the real thing -- without serving your best in a tie-break against a player who is playing well, it is impossible."
Nadal said he was looking forward to the second week after a first round loss in 2013 and second round exit 12 months earlier.
"I'm very happy to be in the second week again after two years losing in the first and second round. I'm playing well, good spirit, good tactics on court, fighting for every ball."
Seven-time men's champion Roger Federer and 2004 women's winner Maria Sharapova were guaranteed to finish their third round matches as they were completing the Centre Court programme.
Federer tackles Colombian world number 35 Santiago Giraldo, who he defeated in their one previous meeting in straight sets, at the 2011 US Open.
Giraldo had never got beyond the second round at Wimbledon until this year.
Sharapova, who won the first of her five majors at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004, faces Alison Riske of the United States, who she beat on grass in the semi-finals in Birmingham in their only other previous clash in 2010.
"I feel like her game matches up with grass extremely well. She stays down really low, hits really flat from both sides, has had steady results on the surface. It's going to be a challenge. Yeah, I look forward to playing her," said French Open champion Sharapova.
On Court One, five-time women's champion Serena Williams and Alize Cornet of France were 1-1 in the first set before rain halted their third round clash. – AFP