MONACO – Rafael Nadal rolled through Grigor Dimitrov with his characteristic ease on Thursday as he secured his place in the quarter-finals at the Monte Carlo Masters with a 6-4 6-1 victory.
The match was not quite the demolition job experienced by Roberto Bautista Agut the previous day, but it was a gratifying triumph for Nadal, who will come away knowing he is again close to peak level.
“I felt good,” Nadal told reporters. “I’m happy with the way I’m playing.
“The first two rounds I played more than well enough for the win. I had two confident scores against two good players.”
Top seed Novak Djokovic meanwhile topped Taylor Fritz 6-3 6-0 in an entertaining, but thoroughly predictable third-round match.
But there were also two shock exits as third-seed Alexander Zverev crashed 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 against Fabio Fognini, and fourth-seed Dominic Thiem, who beat Nadal last year in Madrid, was ousted 6-3 6-3 by Dusan Lajovic.
Nadal had to withdraw from Indian Wells and the Miami Open after more pain in his right knee, but his mood and his power tennis were back on the upswing as he dispelled any lingering doubt here in Monaco.
The bid for a record 12th title, moreover, still looks very much on course after two days of successive play.
On Friday, Nadal will face Guido Pella, who he has defeated both times they have played.
It was only when Nadal was 4-1 ahead in the opening set that he was first troubled: Dimitrov seemed to finally find his stride and upon holding serve at 4-2, capitalised on Nadal’s errors for a break.
That certainly instilled some confidence in the Bulgarian, who went on to place two sublime drop shots that were beyond Nadal’s reach, enabling him to again go level with the Spaniard at 4-4.
In one play that drew perhaps the greatest appreciation from the crowd all week, Dimitrov hit the deck, but still got his point.
His magical playmaking was not to last, however, and as Nadal soon closed on taking the opening set, Dimitrov’s shots went wayward and three times – perhaps because of the wind – sailed into the stands.
“These things are part of the game, and you just try to be ready for it,” Nadal said of the gusty conditions.
“But that’s interesting, too. You have to adapt and you have to find solutions.”
The second set was a mere formality as he needed two match points to take the win, and in a match peppered with errors – they both totalled 21 – it was fitting he won when Dimitrov hit the net.
Earlier on Court Rainier III, Djokovic checked the young phenomenon Fritz quite decisively in one hour and eight minutes without breaking a sweat.
Djokovic is now back in the quarter-finals and will look forward to rekindling a rivalry with Daniil Medvedev. He has won all three times the pair have met, though this will be the first on clay.
The Australian Open champ Djokovic seems to have regained some of the confidence he might have lost after early exits at Indian Wells and then the Miami Open.
He raced ahead from 2-2 to take the opening set even if long rallies were often the rule in the second, they all tended to end with an eventual Fritz error.
While Djokovic cruised, Medvedev needed three sets to dismiss Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2 1-6 6-4.dpa