LONDON (Reuters) - The bar was set absurdly high by the time Rafael Nadal walked onto Centre Court on Monday but the Spaniard responded with a sensational 6-3 6-3 6-4 defeat of Jiri Vesely to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
His great rival and eight-times champion Roger Federer had already maintained his regal progress, claiming the first set of his match against Adrian Mannarino in 16 minutes.
Then came Serena Williams who posted another thumping win to continue her ominous progress toward an eighth-title.
So Nadal, whose 17 Grand Slam titles are eclipsed by Federer’s 20 and the 23 owned by Williams, had a lot to live up to in the warm late afternoon sunshine.
He did not disappoint — dissecting fellow left-hander Vesely with a typically rumbustious display.
Like Federer, Nadal has yet to drop a set here on reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2011 — since when his record at the All England Club has been mediocre.
So far this year, though, it has been like watching him on a Parisian claycourt rather than a London lawn, such has been the ferocity in his brutal groundstrokes and his boundless energy.
After claiming an 11th French Open title Nadal raised doubts about whether he would even play at Wimbledon.
However, not only did he arrive with his batteries charged after some Mallorcan sunshine, the 32-year-old has looked like the one who beat Federer in their epic final in 2008.
Nadal has suffered some bad losses since reaching the 2011 showpiece, falling to four players with three-digit rankings.
But burly Czech Vesely, more dangerous than his 93rd ranking suggest, never got close to causing an upset.
Nadal said it was the first time in seven years he had arrived with a chance of winning the title.
“It’s always the same. If I am playing worse, the opponents play better. When I am playing better, the opponents normally play worse,” was his succinct take on matters.
“It’s true that opponents probably played some good matches, but what happened is that I was not playing the right way. We can find reasons, knees, everything. But it was more about (the fact that) I was not able to compete at the best level.”
Second seed Nadal was made to work just hard enough by Veseley Czech without ever looking in any danger.
The Czech gifted Nadal the one break he needed to win the first set with a double-fault, but the Spaniard took matters into his own hands in the second, clubbing two forehand winners to grab one break and winning the set on Vesely’s serve with a sliced winner as his opponent lumbered forward.
There was a brief hiccup in the third set when Vesely broke for a 3-2 lead when a rare Nadal forehand error drew gasps of surprise from the crowd.
The Spaniard hit back immediately though and sealed victory on his third match point when Vesely served at 4-5.
World number one Nadal has now reached the last eight in four consecutive Grand Slams for the first time since 2011 but he will not want to stop there.
His next obstacle in his quest for a third Wimbledon title will be either Argentina’s fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro or Frenchman Gilles Simon on Wednesday.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris