In an era of superlatives, Rafael Nadal outdid himself again.
In drubbing Argentine Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-0, 6-0, the king of clay set a new benchmark for himself in dropping the fewest games in reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open.
Thus far in 2012 he has lost only 19 games, three less than his previous best of 22 in 2008.
We can only speculate that this French Open campaign—his eighth—will prove as successful, and ruthless, as that of four years ago. Only another Argentine, Guillermo Vilas, did better in the Open era, losing just 16 in 1982 en route to the last eight.
It may surprise some to know that Nadal's win over Monaco was his easiest by far, as he had never to that point double bageled anyone at Paris, nor lost but two games over three sets.
Indeed, for all his domination in the past, this was the first time he had won two bagels in the same match.
Does this suggest a new high in his dominance on Grand Slam clay?
It would be quite unexpected, considering that this time last year there were serious doubts about his worthiness as a champion.
Nadal seemed to be losing steam in 2011, when not only was he beaten in straight sets over two clay court finals by Novak Djokovic, but pushed to five by John Isner in the first round at Roland Garros.
There were the questions and doubts, and many finally believed that this was the beginning of the decline we had all been waiting to see happen.
His tennis against Ivan Ljubicic at this round last year was tentative and unsteady, and it suffices even to say that in that match, the Croat seemed to be in with a chance.
Quite a difference a year makes.
Nadal is back to his dominant best, having righted the two wrongs inflicted on him by Djokovic at Monte Carlo and Rome, and has now begun to play with the sort of dangerous, relaxed zest that propelled him in 2008 into a streak of uber-clay-court tennis.
There were all the signs of this in his match against Monaco—the almost obligatory ridiculous gets and defense mixed in with monstrous forehands here and there.
Just maybe Nadal wasn't quite in the court as he was four years ago, and didn't repel as violently the aggressive thrusts Monaco struck at him, but it was clearly enough to overwhelm the Argentine. More importantly, his knees seem to be proving little hindrance this fortnight.
Nadal is on one of those streaks of startling clay-court form again, although the only criticism that could be made of him is that he hasn't really been tested yet.
Last year, Isner and Ljubicic asked a few questions of the Spaniard. Although in 2012, Monaco was the first quality clay courter he faced. Admittedly, he passed the test with flying colours.
It is a contrast with the laborious progress of his rivals-in-chief, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
One was faced with a two-set deficit against Seppi, and the other has bled sets every round since the first. Moreover, they face tough propositions in the quarterfinals in Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro respectively.
Nadal ought to be pleased with the way the tournament is unfolding.
He played the last men's match on Suzanne Lenglen yesterday, and as superstar as he is, as well-liked and popular as his matches are, Nadal's progress through to the quarterfinal was uneventful. From a dramatic perspective, pedestrian.
Murray and Gasquet had battled out a tough fourth setter, and the day before had been the scene of chaos. The character of Nadal's advance through the Roland Garros draw could hardly better be described than as a process of "easing"—silent and sound with all the verve of an assassin.
It will get more difficult in the quarters.
His next opponent, Nicolas Almagro, pushed him to three tight sets two years ago (although he was also thrashed in three breadsticks two years before that). And in the semifinals, Nadal could face either fourth seed Andy Murray or the secret second-favourite, David Ferrer, whose progress thus far has been Nadalesque in its efficiency.
If, however, Nadal's form is the sign of an ominously upward trend, a return to his 2008 Roland Garros campaign, not even a clone of Nadal could halt his relentless march to victory.
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