A rare couple of wobbles failed to derail Rafael Nadal, who overcame the spirited challenge of Maximilian Marterer to reach the French Open quarter-finals with a 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-4) success on Monday.
The defending champion is the firm favourite to clinch an 11th title at Roland Garros and although world number 70 Marterer proved an awkward opponent for his fellow lefty, the outcome was rarely in doubt once the Spaniard had recovered from going a break down in the first.
Before an expectant crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier, Nadal extended his streak of consecutive sets won on the Paris clay to 37 – only Bjorn Borg (41) is ahead of him in those stakes.
Marterer, enjoying his best run on just his third appearance in the main draw of a major, performed with admirable composure and maturity that belied his 22 years and did force another break midway through the third set but ultimately could do little to halt the Nadal juggernaut.
Next up for the Spaniard is a last-eight meeting with Diego Schwartzman, who came from two sets down to see off Kevin Anderson, runner-up to Nadal in last year’s US Open final.
That victory secured a 16th grand slam title and, on current form, it would take a brave person to bet against Nadal making it 17 in the French capital.
Marterer may have felt he would need a degree of fortune to have any chance of an upset and the early signs were promising as a net cord set up two break points, Nadal double faulting on the first to hand his opponent a 2-0 lead.
Nadal was soon back on serve when it was Marterer’s turn to double fault and after saving two break points in game five, the Spaniard carried his momentum into the next with a break to love and a 4-2 advantage courtesy of a fine inside-out forehand.
The top seed had few problems in serving out the set and he made a flying start to the second with another break to love as Marterer got a first-hand look at why the champion has been dubbed the King of Clay.
An off-balance Marterer could only net a forehand to gift the world number one a second break for 5-2 and the German fell two sets behind when a wild return flew well wide.
A rescued break point in the opening game of the third was further evidence of Marterer’s fortitude and Nadal was guilty of losing focus, smashing a routine forehand into the tramlines to go 3-1 down.
But as in the first set, Nadal’s riposte was swift, chasing down a drop-shot to set up a break-back opportunity, converted when Marterer thumped a forehand long.
The champion overturned an early deficit in the tie-break to lead 4-2 at the change-over and victory was assured when Marterer went long, allowing Nadal to celebrate just 24 hours after his 32nd birthday.