Rafael Nadal knows it is a good year when he celebrates his birthday here at the French Open. Since 2004 the only time when the Spaniard's celebrations have not been à la parisienne was in 2009, when he suffered his only defeat in 57 matches at this tournament, losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round.
A giant 27th birthday cake was duly wheeled on to Philippe Chatrier Court at the end of Nadal's latest victory, a 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 triumph yesterday over Japan's Kei Nishikori. Although the world No 4 struggled at times in the first set, he said afterwards that it was his best performance of the fortnight so far. In particular, he felt more confidence in his forehand, which is so often a key to his game.
Having dropped the first set in his opening two rounds, Nadal has now enjoyed two straight-sets wins in a row. After Nishikori held serve at the start of the second set, Nadal won seven games in succession. He needed only one break in the fourth game of the third set to secure victory after two hours and two minutes.
The victory earns a quarter-final meeting with Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat Richard Gasquet 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6 after four hours and 16 minutes in one of the matches of the tournament. It was the sixth time in Wawrinka's career that he has won a match from two-sets down – four of those comebacks have been here – and the fifth time Gasquet has lost from two-sets up.
Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 champion, looked likely to push Victoria Azarenka hard when the score was 3-3 in the first set, but the Belarusian then won nine games in a row to complete a 6-3, 6-0 victory. Azarenka will now meet Maria Kirilenko, who reached her first quarter-final here by beating Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-5, 6-4. Maria Sharapova is also through after a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sloane Stephens.