Rafael Nadal safely made it through to the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open on Thursday, defeating Jarkko Nieminen 6-1, 6-4 to set up a meeting with Tomas Berdych in the last eight.
The world number one broke his Finnish opponent’s serve three times en route to winning the opening set but struggled to close the match out in the second and take victory in 80 minutes.
Nieminen, ranked at 57 in the world, fought back from 3-0 down to 3-3 after Nadal seemed to be coasting to victory and he also had a chance to serve for the set when he had a break point on Nadal’s serve in the ninth game.
But he was unable to capitalise on the opportunity and Nadal then broke in the following game to progress to the next round.
Nieminen had beaten Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling to reach the third round of the tournament for the first time.
Nadal is the defending champion at the clay court tournament after beating Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in the 2013 final.
The 27-year-old is still yet to find his best form on the red dirt this year, as the “King of Clay” is yet to add to the ATP 500 title he won in Rio de Janeiro in February.
Surprise losses to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively have seen him lose some of his perceived invincibility on the surface but he has looked untroubled in the Spanish capital so far.
Argentine Juan Monaco managed to win just one game in a 6-0, 6-1 thrashing against the 13-time Grand Slam champion and he could face British number one Andy Murray should he make it to the semi-finals.
He will face Berdych to get there first, though, as the Czech came back from a set down to beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
The last time the world number six overcame Nadal was in fact in the quarter-finals in Madrid in 2006, though that was when the tournament was held on an indoor hard court surface.
Berdych was a finalist at the tournament in 2012, when he was beaten by Roger Federer.
The 28-year-old has shown mixed form so far in the clay court season, as he was knocked out in the last 16 of the Monte Carlo Masters in April by unseeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and followed that up by reaching the final of the Portugal Open in Oeiras last week, where he was beaten by world number 62 Carlos Berlocq.
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