MONTREAL — Rafael Nadal’s knees stood up just fine on an historic night at Uniprix Stadium.
The world No. 2 waltzed to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over mistake-prone Philipp Petzschner in third-round play at the US$3-million Rogers Cup on Thursday in the first real test of the tendinitis in both knees that kept him sidelined for the past 10 weeks.
Nadal’s first match on Wednesday night was cut short when opponent David Ferrer retired midway through the first set with a sore knee.
“The movements were a little bit better, but I need more matches to get the rhythm,” said Nadal, the tournament’s defending champion. “I moved a bit better but sometimes my positioning wasn’t perfect.
“I need to adjust the legs and feet more to play some shots. But I’m very happy because I’m in the quarter-finals, which is more than I expected when I came here. I have one match and a half right now and I expect to be ready for (Friday.)”
Nadal was among the eight top-ranked players in the world to reach the quarter-finals — the first time that has happened at an ATP tournament since rankings were introduced in 1973. The group, in order, has Roger Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin Del Porto, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nikolay Davydenko.
”Certainly the top six have been putting up results very consistently this year,” said Roddick. “This is probably one of the most consistent years I’ve had and I’m still looking at No. 5. There’s a precedent being set by the top guys now.”
Nadal shot off to a 3-0 lead in the first set and never looked back as the Spanish left-hander advanced to the quarter-finals, where he will face sixth-seeded Del Potro. The Argentine Del Potro, coming off a win last week in Washington, downed Victor Hanescu of Romania 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“I know I’m not the favourite for the match, but it gives me a chance to keep improving in my level,” said Nadal. “He’s playing well.
“He’s No. 6 in the world. He won in Washington and he won a tough match (against Hanescu), so he’s coming with big confidence. He has a good serve and good shots from the baseline. He’s a very tough opponent for me right now.”
The 23-year-old Nadal is in his first tournament since losing in the fourth round of the French Open on May 31.
Federer will next play Tsonga, a 6-3, 6-3 winner over his ninth-ranked French compatriot Gilles Simon.
Another quarter-final will see Roddick face Djokovic in a battle of strong hardcourt players.
Roddick fought off a strong service game from 10th-seeded Fernando Verdasco to defeat the Spanish southpaw 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-6 (5). The American is 32-8 in tiebreakers this year.
Djokovic, the fourth seed, downed Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-3, 6-4. The Serb leads the ATP Tour with 49 match wins this year. That sets up the sixth career meeting between Roddick and Djokovic. Roddick holds a 3-2 edge, including wins in their two meetings this year — at the Australian Open, where Djokovic retired in the fourth set from cramps and heat stress, and at Indian Wells.
“They were both on hardcourts, so hopefully I can get a chance to play better and win,” said Djokovic. “We all know he’s the biggest server in the game, next to Ivo Karlovic, and he’s playing better since he started working with a new coach (Larry Stefanki).
“He’s more aggressive. He played great in Wimbledon. He’s on a roll, so it’s going to be a difficult one.”
Roddick had equal praise for Djokovic.
“We’re very aware of what the other does well,” said Roddick. “It goes without saying that I’ll have to play well to advance.
“I don’t think you can put much stock in a win that was six months ago. A lot has changed. And to his credit, he certainly didn’t play that well that day.”
Murray, of Britain, had little trouble dispatching former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-1, 6-3 and Davydenko of Russia edged 11th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 7-6 (2), 7-5.
Murray, who will face Davydenko in the quarter-finals, has a chance to overtake Nadal for the No. 2 world ranking if he goes far and the Spaniard falters.
Nadal said the ranking ”doesn’t matter. In the end, the important thing is to play well. The thing that makes me happy is to be competitive and win tournaments, no?”
Roddick improved to 9-2 in his career against Verdasco, but the two-hour 37-minute match in muggy conditions wasn’t easy.
The American got the edge when he broke service for 6-5 in the third set with a desperate cross-court shot at the end of a long exchange, and then winning the tiebreak when Verdasco hit two balls in a row long.