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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, June 4, 2017

Celebrating his 31st birthday yesterday, Rafael Nadal received enough birthday cake to stock his own patisserie.

Neither confectioners’ sugar nor competitive seeds can satisfy the Spaniard’s hunger for clay success.

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A driven Nadal chewed up compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, rushing into the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the record-tying 11th time in 13 appearances.

Nadal equaled Roger Federer's record for most Roland Garros quarterfinal appearances in the Open Era.

Nine times Nadal has ended this tournament chomping on the silver Coupe des Mousquetaires awarded to the Roland Garros champion.

Playing with vicious sting on his shots, Nadal has brought some serious competitive bite back to the terre battue. A year ago, a left wrist injury forced him to pull out of Paris prior to this third round match.

The 10-time Monte-Carlo champion has played with the vigor of a man determined to make up for lost time. In four tournament victories, Nadal has surrendered just 20 games—the second best start to a major of his career.

Five years ago, Nadal permitted just 19 games through his first four matches en route to the 2012 Roland Garros title.

Armed with a 12-0 career record against fellow Spaniards in Paris, Nadal wasted no time pushing the 17th seed into obscure areas of the court.

Punishing Bautista Agut’s backhand, Nadal scored his third break for a 5-1 lead after 33 minutes. Nadal won 14 of 21 points played on his opponent’s serve in tearing to a one-set lead.

In a rare net duel, Nadal drew his 29-year-old compatriot forward with a drop shot. Bautista Agut answered with his own dropper that dribbled over the tape before Nadal shoveled a forehand pass down the line breaking for 2-1.

A twisting forehand strike down the line gave Nadal a two-set lead capping a dominant set in which he won 16 of 17 points on serve enjoying an 11 to 2 edge in winners.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion’s only real turbulence came in the early stages of the third set when chair umpire Carlos Ramos hit Nadal with a second time violation warning resulting in a loss of a first serve. Bautista Agut earned break point, but Nadal, backpedaling behind the baseline, bolted a diagonal forehand winner to save it, eventually holding for 2-all.

Bautista Agut’s two-handed backhand can be a stiff shot. He sprayed a backhand wide then netted a two-hander as Nadal broke for 3-2 and never looked back.

The fourth-seeded Spaniard raised his record to a staggering 99-2 in best-of-five-set matches on clay.

Continuing his quest for his first Grand Slam title since the 2014 Roland Garros, Nadal will play either fifth-seeded Milos Raonic or 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta for a semifinal spot. 


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