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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal scored his ninth straight Olympic win, defeating Gilles Simon, 7-6 (5), 6-3, to advance to the Rio quarterfinals.

Photo credit: ITF Olympic Tennis

Rafael Nadal spent some time swinging in the rain yesterday.

The 2008 gold medal champion withstood some late-set squalls blazing into the Rio Olympic quarterfinals with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 conquest of Gilles Simon.

Watch: Live Olympic Tennis Blog

It was Nadal's ninth straight Olympic victory.

"Always the winner of the first set gives you confidence," Nadal told Bravo Network's Trenni Kusnierek. "I started strong in the second—that was the difference. Gilles is a great player. Sometimes you don't know whether to hit strong or less power to hit the rhythm. I think I did (that well)."

The third-seeded Spaniard will take on Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci in a battle of left-handers for a place in the final four. Bellucci beat eighth-seeded Belgian David Goffin, 7-6 (10), 6-4, saving seven of nine break points.

Nadal has won all five prior encounters with the lanky Brazilian, sweeping all 14 sets they've played. This will be their first hard-court meeting.

Rain washed out the entire schedule yesterday presenting Nadal with an arduous task: Play singles, doubles and mixed doubles all in less that 24 hours today.

Playing like a man on mission of expediency, Nadal raced out to a one-set, 5-1 lead, but a stubborn Simon would not yield.

Serving for the quarterfinals at 5-2, Nadal ballooned a backhand beyond the baseline to face break point. Moving forward, Nadal did well to scrape up a low forehand volley, but Simon was already moving forward and swatted a forehand pass to gain one break back for 3-5.

When Simon sprayed a forehand long, Nadal had match point.

On the ensuring rally, Nadal attacked drawing an errant Simon backhand and leaping into the air with an exuberant "vamos!"

Since enduring a 73-day sabbatical from the sport to nurse a damaged tendon in his left wrist, Nadal has returned with a bang. Exuding plenty of passion and adopting more aggressive court positioning in Rio, Nadal has not surrendered a set storming into the last eight.

Desire fuels his run. Even during yesterday's rain, Nadal took to the court to hit some balls amid the sprinkle.

"The passion for what I am doing, the passion for the sport and the motivation to keep doing what I really like (is key)," Nadal said. "I like to compete in the world of tennis and I think we're very lucky people to live the tennis tour and life we have."

Wrapping up today's win in two hours, two minutes, Nadal didn't have too much time to celebrate.

He is due back out on court with good buddy Marc Lopez to face the Canadian duo of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in the doubles semifinals.

After that, Nadal and reigning Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza are scheduled to face the Czech pair of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka in their opening-round mixed doubles match.

Nadal has spent 10 hours and 18 minutes on court to this point.

How much will fatigue be a factor in his triple-threat quest to medal?

The nine-time French Open champion says Wednesday's wash-out gave him the opportunity to recover a bit for what could be a demanding stretch run.

"Nobody avoids fatigue," Nadal said. "For sure everybody's tired. The rain for me personally probably helped me a little bit more. Next match for me is very important. We play for the chance to win a medal with one of my best friends so we gonna try our best."

Juan Martin del Potro beat back Taro Daniel, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-2. Del Potro blasted 16 aces and won five of nine break points. The 2009 US Open champion takes on Roberto Bautista Agut for a semifinal spot. The 10th-seeded Spaniard denied Gilles Muller, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Steve Johnson swept Evgeny Donskoy, 6-1, 6-1.

The 12th-seeded American will face either second-seeded Andy Murray or Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals.

"It's gonna be a blast," Johnson said. "Every day you can play at the Olympics is a special day so I'm gonna go out and have a blast, try to execute my game plan and try to win that last point."


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