Rafael Nadal remained on course for a showdown against No.1-ranked Roger Federer with a 6—7 (8), 6—2, 6—2 third—round win over dangerous wild card entry David Nalbandian at the Sony Ericsson Open.
It has been 10 months since Nadal won a tournament, but he on Sunday showed some of his old championship swagger by rallying past Nalbandian.
Nadal and Federer haven’t played against each other since May in Madrid, but their paths to the final became easier when No 2 Novak Djokovic and No 3 Andy Murray lost their opening matches.
“It doesn’t affect me a lot that Murray or Djokovic are out if I lose today,” fourth—seeded Nadal said.
As for who he might play next Sunday: “If I am in the final, I don’t care.”
A potential semifinal opponent is No. 6 Andy Roddick, who reached the final 16 by beating Sergiy Stakhovsky in 55 minutes, 6—2, 6—1.
Nadal will next face fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, who beat Ivo Karlovic 7—6 (5), 6—3. Olivier Rochus, who upset Djokovic in the second round, lost to No 27 Thomaz Bellucci 6—3, 6—4.
Advancing to the women’s fourth round were Belgian pair and Grand Slam champions Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. They could meet in the semifinals. Second—seeded Caroline Wozniacki and defending champion Victoria Azarenka also won.
In the early going against Nalbandian, it looked as though Nadal might have the coming week off. The Argentine, a former top—five player mounting a comeback from hip surgery, more than held his own in long baseline rallies and often found the open court with his backhand.