With a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4) win on Monday against up-and-coming German player Maximilian Marterer, Nadal moved into the quarterfinals and above Jimmy Connors on the all-time list of match-winners at majors.
Connors won 233. Nadal has 234.
Just Novak Djokovic, with 244 Grand Slam wins, and Roger Federer, with 332, are ahead of him.
But in his chase for a record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros, the only numbers Nadal seems to be keeping close track of are those up on the scoreboard. It had, for example, seemingly escaped him that in beating Marterer, a 22-year- old with a promising game, Nadal also notched up his 900th career win on tour. Although such numbers might not be foremost in Nadal’s mind, they are gauges to the impressive longevity and winning consistency of the Spaniard who turned 32 on Sunday.
“I don’t feel myself old. But I am 32, and I am here around since 2003, so it’s a long way, a lot of years. I started very young,” he said. “Being honest, I am enjoying the day by day on the tour and I hope to keep doing this for a while.” Nadal’s next opponent, Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, will be playing his first Roland Garros quarterfinal. It will be Nadal’s 12th.
The only other player with that many in the professional era is Djokovic, who plays his 12th quarterfinal against Marco Cecchinato of Italy. Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, both former U.S. Open champions, completed the quarterfinal lineup with wins.
Cilic, runner-up at the Australian Open in January, was up two sets and seemingly cruising against Fabio Fognini before the hard-to-dislodge Italian took the next two sets, saving a match point along the way. The third-seeded Cilic ultimately prevailed 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
“Just a crazy match,” said the Croatian, a quarterfinalist last year, too. “It was just hanging by a thread. A couple of points decided it.” Del Potro, Cilic’s next opponent, had a more straightforward 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win against big-serving John Isner, who served 12 aces but fell short of becoming the first American man to reach the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003, despite hopeful chants of “U-S-A!, U-S-A!” from the crowd.
“I was outplayed by a large margin,” Isner said. “I would have liked to maybe put up a better fight.” Marterer fought, for all the good it did him against Nadal. A left-hander like the Spaniard but ranked 69 spots below the No. 1, the German’s first French Open, and only his third major, has shown he has the tennis to play many more. On Court Philippe Chatrier where Nadal has triumphed so often, he broke the defending champion in the first game, with Nadal looking more like the nervy debutant, serving a double fault at 15-40.
But Rafa’s Law - the unwritten logic that he is practically unbeatable on the red clay in Paris - quickly prevailed.
Like so many other players down the years since Nadal’s first title in 2005, Marterer soon found himself back in the press center, explaining to reporters what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
“You know, if he hits a forehand like, yeah, really heavy, it’s of course something different compared to any other opponent you have during the year,” he said. “The better guy won in the end.”