PARIS – Rafael Nadal said he doesn't “feel old”, after moving a step closer to an incredible 11th French Open title on Monday by beating German Maximilian Marterer to reach the quarter-finals the day after his 32nd birthday.
The world number one's 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) victory over the world number 70 was his 900th win at tour level.
It also saw him equal the record of 12 last-eight appearances at Roland Garros, which was set by Novak Djokovic the day before.
Top seed Nadal, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday, is now on his own in third on the all-time list for most match wins at Grand Slam events with 234 victories after passing Jimmy Connors.
“I don't feel old. But I am 32, and I have been here since 2003, so it's a long way, a lot of years,” he said.
“I started very young. That's a real thing. But, no, I feel happy to be here. Being honest, I am enjoying the day by day on the tour and I hope to keep doing this for a while.”
Nadal powered 39 winners past Marterer, who pushed the Spaniard as hard as he could without ever threatening an upset.
He will face Argentinian Diego Schwartzman for a semi-final spot, after the 11th seed staged a thrilling comeback to down sixth seed Kevin Anderson 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/0), 6-2.
“It's always good to see him in the quarter-final because he's a good friend, a good person. He's a worker, and I'm happy to see him having all this success. Hopefully not too much (though),” smiled Nadal, who had a brief practice session with Schwartzman last week.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion has now won 37 consecutive sets at Roland Garros, just four short of Bjorn Borg's record set between 1979 and 1981.
Nadal was caught cold in the opening stages as some big hitting from Marterer brought him the first two games.
But it didn't take Nadal long to figure out his opponent, reeling off four straight games en route to an inevitable one-set lead.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion raced through the second set in just 38 minutes, breaking his opponent's serve twice.
But Marterer - who was playing in the main draw for the first time - moved into a 3-1 lead early in the third as he threatened to become the first man to take a set off Nadal at Roland Garros since the Spaniard's 2015 quarter-final defeat by Djokovic.
But the reigning champion quickly hit back before securing a tie-break on his second match point when Marterer fired long, celebrating with a trademark fist pump.
David beats Goliath
Schwartzman fought back from two sets down to stun Anderson and reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
He was totally outplayed in the first two sets, but twice broke Anderson when the South African was serving for the match to pull off a dramatic win.
The 25-year-old, who stands at 5ft 7in (1.7m), said that the story of David and Goliath helped him believe he could down the 6ft 8in (2.03m) Anderson.
“Did you read David and Goliath? That's why. That's why,” he explained.
“I read it when I was young in the school, and I just try to think that when I see Kevin or the guys who have two metres.”
World number seven Anderson, who was looking to become the first South African man to make the last eight in Paris since Cliff Drysdale 51 years ago, has now lost in the fourth round at Roland Garros on four occasions.
Fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro brushed aside John Isner 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012.
The 29-year-old Argentinian was knocked out in the third round at Roland Garros last year after missing the previous four tournaments in Paris through injury.
Del Potro will next face fellow former US Open champion and third seed Marin Cilic who needed five sets to beat fiery Italian Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 on the back of 44 winners.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)