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By Alberto Amalfi | Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal scored his fifth straight win over Gilles Simon to set up an Indian Wells quarterfinal with Milos Raonic.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Lunging left and right Gilles Simon could hear the ominous sound of Rafael Nadal's forehand repeatedly whipping through the air.

All that activity took place in the tunnel before today's round of 16 encounter.

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The third-ranked Spaniard warmed up for the match taking some shadow swings in the tunnel. Then Nadal walked onto the stadium and blew by Simon, 6-2, 6-4, to breeze into the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals for the ninth time.

"Today I think I played a solid match against a tough opponent like Simon that is not easy tactically how to play," Nadal said. "Tactically I think I played a very positive match. In general, I played solid. Only two bad games with  my  serve I played bad. Made few mistakes, especially with the 1-0;  and then  5-2, 30-Love, 30-15, one mistake, unbelievable mistake. But for the rest I played solid. I played with not many matches waiting for the opportunity to go for the point, and I went for the point when I had to do it. Happy the way I played.  It was an important victory for me, for sure."

Nadal set up a quarterfinal clash with titanic server Milos Raonic.

The sixth-seeded Canadian won 21 of 23 first-serve points dismissing Tommy Robredo, 6-3, 6-2, in 64 minutes. Though Nadal has won 10 of 11 sets with Raonic, he knows service breaks may well be at a premium. Raonic has not dropped serve in registering tournament victories over Simone Bolelli, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Robredo. 

"Obviously he's an opponent that you don't want to play against because he's an opponent that you play under a lot of  pressure everything, every point," Nadal said of Raonic. "Every point has a lot of value. You cannot lose your concentration in no one moment with your serve. You know, what happened today with my serve twice cannot happen next day if I want to have any chance. And then the return is very difficult to have points, no?  Then he's able to play very aggressive from the baseline. So will be a very tough match. I know that. I know I need to be at my 100 percent  to  have  any chance, and that I gonna try."

The Nadal-Simon rivalry dates back to 2006 with the Spaniard usually calling the shots.

The slender Simon hits flatter than Nadal, but his shots lack the ferocity of the world No. 3. While Nadal thumps his forehand, Simon massages his shots around the court, preferring to counter-punch off his opponent's pace.

The 13th-seed's inability to penetrate the court proved problematic in a three-error opening game. Nadal broke for 1-0 then backed up the break at 15 winning eight of the first 10 points to force the Frenchman to play catch-up from the start.

Pushed around in baseline rallies, the slender Simon tried to serve with more aggression, but his percentage plummeted as the set progressed. When Nadal painted the sideline with another crackling forehand, Simon challenged the call more out of a sense of disbelief. The challenge failed and Nadal broke again for 4-1.

Serving with more authority than he did against American Donald Young, Nadal touched 123 mph a few times in the set, including set point to snatch the opener. The Spaniard serve 75 percent and won 16 of 20 points played on his serve. In contrast, Simon served 44 percent and won 15 of 29 points played on his serve in the set.

The three-time champion's only real lapses came at the beginning and near the end of set two.

Losing his range a bit, Nadal hooked a topspin forehand deep to fall into a 0-30 hole. Running around a backhand, he lined a forehand into net and it was triple break point. A deep return forced Nadal to backpedal as he spun another forehand into net and Simon snared his first break for 2-0.

The Frenchman's roll would not last. Nadal went on a five-game run that left Simon looking spent at times.

Though Simon slashed a 130 mph serve winner, he squandered a 30-0 lead and muttered to himself after donating the break back on his first double fault. Nadal held at 15 to back up the break for 2-2.

When Simon slapped shot into net, Nadal broke for 3-2 seemingly cracking Simon's sense of self belief in the process. The third seed failed to serve out the match at 5-2, but regrouped to close in 78 minutes.


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