PARIS – Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal celebrated his 27th birthday in ruthless style on Monday by trouncing outclassed 13th seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 to reach the French Open quarterfinals.
It was third-seeded Nadal’s 56th win in 57 career matches at Roland Garros as he moved closer to becoming the first man in history to win the same Grand Slam title eight times.
Next up for the defending champion is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss ninth seed.
Nadal arrived in Paris having collected six titles in eight finals since his return from a seven-month injury layoff.
But he was sluggish in the first week of a cold and damp Paris, losing the opening set of his first two matches for the first time in his Grand Slam career.
Since the weather has improved, so has the Spaniard, seeing off Fabio Fognini in straight sets on Saturday and then comfortably defeating Nishikori, the first Japanese man in the fourth round since Fumiteru Nakano in 1938.
“It’s a very special moment,” said Nadal, as the crowd welcomed him to Court Philippe Chatrier by singing “Happy Birthday” and repeating it on the match’s conclusion.
“Kei is a great player and he is getting better every season. But today I think I played my best match of the tournament.”
Nadal was presented with a giant birthday cake at the end of the match and he will be looking for more celebrations on Wednesday in the quarterfinals as he holds a 9-0 career mark against Wawrinka.
Wawrinka labored for 4 hours, 16 minutes to get the better of seventh-seeded Richard Gasquet of France 6-7 (5-7), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6.
Novak Djokovic, playing two days after the death of his childhood coach, also advanced to the quarters. The top-ranked Djokovic’s emotion was clear to see after beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
The Serb clenched his fist once, twice, then pumped it toward the ground as he yelled ‘Come on!’ to himself.
Djokovic then quickly turned to his team in the stands and clenched it one last time, his face gripped with determination and pride.
There was no doubt that this win was for Jelena Gencic, who died Saturday in Belgrade at age 76. She started coaching him when he was 6, and Djokovic referred to her as his “second mother.”
“I feel even more responsible now to go all the way in this tournament. I want to do it for her,” Djokovic said. “I know that her spirit will be always with me and always on the tennis court.”
In women’s action, defending champion Maria Sharapova returned to the quarterfinals by beating 17th-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States 6-4, 6-3.
The second-seeded Sharapova handled Stephens’ strong serve well, accumulating 12 break points and converting four. Sharapova’s win came in 62 minutes.
In 2012, Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros, adding that trophy to ones from Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.
Sharapova has won all eight sets she’s played so far this year and will face No. 18 Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals.
Jankovic, the 2008 U.S. Open runnerup, advanced with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over 54th-ranked Jamie Hampton of the U.S.
Russia’s Maria Kirilenko downed American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-5, 6-4 to set up a meeting with two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.