By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal stands three victories away from winning a jaw-dropping 12th French Open title after reaching the quarter-finals on Sunday but says his haul could one day be beaten.
The Spaniard beat Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Londero 6-2 6-3 6-3 with another masterful display of claycourt tennis, although the match was more competitive than the scoreline suggests.
Second seed Nadal has dropped just one set and is playing arguably as well as he has ever done on the Parisian clay since his domination began in 2005.
Nadal turns 33 on Monday, but the intensity and hunger that earned him the first of his 17 Grand Slam titles that year remain undiminished.
Should he win the trophy again next Sunday he would become the first player to win 12 titles at the same Grand Slam and there is nothing to suggest his collection would stop there.
It is a superhuman effort from an incredible athlete and it’s difficult to imagine it ever being emulated.
“What happened here, it’s something really unbelievable,” he told reporters. “I don’t know what can happen in the future or not. But yeah, 11 here already is something really unbelievable. I always say the same.
“It looks, for the most of you, and even for me, looks so difficult to increase that number for anyone in the future. But if I did it, and I consider myself a normal person, probably someone else is gonna do it.”
Nadal has blazed through the first four rounds, but Sunday was no procession against the feisty Argentine world number 78 who has enjoyed a dream Grand Slam debut by winning three matches.
He would have given plenty of top names a run for their money, bravely taking the game to Nadal with his aggressive baseline game and killer drop shots.
Nadal broke in the second game and was always in control of the contest, although Londero’s level never dropped and he was still battling deep into the third set when he broke the Nadal serve and briefly threatened to do it again.
“It was a very difficult day. Very windy out there. So not easy to find the feelings. But with that conditions, I think I did a lot of things well,” Nadal said.
“Played a solid match against that player, being honest, he’s good. He’s very intense. Very aggressive.”
The biggest compliment Nadal could make Londero was the relief he seemed to feel when holding serve at 4-3, producing a roar and a fist-pump after serving an ace.
A game later he belted away a forehand — his 40th winner — to reach his 38th Grand Slam quarter-final where he will face either Kei Nishikori or Benoit Paire.
So once again Nadal will spend his birthday at work in Paris, not that he is complaining.
“The celebrations are, of course, not that good when I am not here because that means that I lost or I have been injured,” he said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)