Rafael Nadal believes now is the moment to step up the defence of his US Open title after another tough battle against Nikoloz Basilashvili.
After battling for nearly four and a half hours to beat Karen Khachanov on Friday, Nadal was again pushed beyond the three-hour mark before defeating his Georgian opponent 6-3 6-3 6-7 (6/8) 6-4.
Basilashvili, ranked 37, had won just a single game against Nadal in their only previous meeting at the French Open last year but played superbly here, especially in the third-set tie-break.
There was not the same sense of danger as there had been against Khachanov but Nadal, who played without strapping on his knee, was still relieved to come through.
He said: “Two matches in a row very tough ones. I had a big chance at the beginning of the third, if I make that break, maybe things will be different.
“I think I played a good tie-break, but he played fantastic. A lot of credit to him. I’m very happy to be through. It’s a big victory for me because of what happened two days ago. The physical issue was there of course, but I feel good.”
Next up for Nadal is a quarter-final against ninth seed Dominic Thiem, who is the only player to beat him on clay for the last two seasons and who ended the run of last year’s beaten finalist Kevin Anderson on Sunday.
Nadal defeated Thiem in the French Open final but has a lot of respect for the Austrian. This will be their first meeting on hard courts after 10 matches on clay.
“He’s a fantastic player,” said Nadal. “He’s a very powerful player. He’s a great guy. I have a very good relationship with him.
“It’s going to be a tough one. He knows how to play these kind of matches. I need to play my best match of the tournament if I want to keep having chances to stay in the tournament.
“Now is the moment to make the next step, step forward, play more aggressive. I did a lot of things well during the whole season. It’s the moment to make it happen again. I hope to be ready to make that happen.”
The French Open has been by far Thiem’s best grand slam and beating Anderson was a major breakthrough. The 24-year-old – he turns 25 on Monday – had reached the fourth round of slams outside of Roland Garros six times prior to this tournament and lost each time.
Here 12 months ago was the most painful of the lot, when he led an ailing Juan Martin del Potro by two sets to love only for the popular Argentinian to be roared to victory.
Now Thiem will try to beat Nadal for the fourth time, saying of their previous matches: “It was three very nice experiences and six horrible experiences.
“But I’m really looking forward to it. To compete with him well, I always have to have a great day, and I have to play well. But I did today, so I just keep up my habits.
“I did it sometimes against him, but it’s a risky game style also, because it can happen that I make too many mistakes and then it looks black.”
Anderson’s improvement at the age of 32 has been inspiring, with the South African following up his slam breakthrough here 12 months ago by reaching the final of Wimbledon, beating Roger Federer along the way.
But he had battled through two five-set clashes to make the last four and had no answer to Thiem, who won 7-5 6-2 7-6 (7/2).
Anderson said: “Of course it’s disappointing. I wanted to be here right until the end and put myself in contention of winning my first major. It wasn’t meant to be. I think it was definitely Dom’s day today.”
The other quarter-final in the top half will pit third seed Juan Martin del Potro against John Isner. Del Potro is yet to drop a set and defeated Borna Coric 6-4 6-3 6-1 while Isner saw off Milos Raonic 3-6 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-2.