Rafael Nadal does not believe he is currently playing well enough to win a sixth French Open crown this year.
The world number one reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros with a 7-5 6-3 6-3 victory over Ivan Ljubicic today but again he was not at his best, especially in a very scrappy first set.
Nadal has been exceptionally candid in press conferences during the tournament, talking at length about his struggles with confidence and his game and the difficulties of staying at the top of men’s tennis year after year.
The 24-year-old said: “I am not confident. I am not playing well enough to win this tournament the way I played today. That’s the truth. You have to be realistic.
“We will see after tomorrow if I am ready to play at this level. I am going to try. But I won five times already here. I don’t have an obligation to win six. I am going to try for sure.
“Sometimes it’s much more important to win when you are not playing that well than win when you are playing well, because winning when you are playing well probably it is easier.”
Ljubicic admitted a first-serve percentage of 51% did not give him a chance of upsetting Nadal, saying: “I think it wasn’t a bad match from my side it’s just that the serve was not there.
“Without the serve against anybody it’s tough, but against Rafa it’s definitely almost impossible. In the first set I had chances, I felt like he felt the pressure and I just needed to play a little longer.
“But he played well at that moment and I think he played a really good second set. I think today’s match is going to give him quite a lot of confidence.”
Nadal will play Robin Soderling in the last eight in a repeat of last year’s final after the fifth seed saw off France’s Gilles Simon 6-2 6-3 7-6 (7/5) today.
The Swede, who also reached the final in 2009, has eased through the draw largely unnoticed and demonstrated what a threat he could be to Nadal with some big hitting.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, Nadal’s chief rival for the French Open crow, received a free passage through to the semi-finals when Fabio Fognini withdrew through injury this morning.
The Italian, who had never before been past the third round of a grand slam, suffered a small tear in his left thigh muscle during his remarkable five-set win over Albert Montanes yesterday.
Fognini said: “I’m not really happy because this is the best tournament of my career. But it is better like this. The doctor said if I play tomorrow, it could be dangerous.”
The walkover means Djokovic, who will play either Roger Federer or Gael Monfils in the last four, will need to win the tournament to beat John McEnroe’s record start to a season of 42 straight wins in 1984.
The Serb will not play again until Friday, and he said on Twitter: “Walkover from Fognini. Bad luck for him, hope he recovers fast. Today I get to enjoy Paris in a different way.”
Nadal and Ljubicic differed in their view of whether the break will be a good thing for Djokovic, with the Spaniard saying: “It’s fantastic, no? After he doesn’t lose a match all year, you think he’ll lose his rhythm?”
Ljubicic, though, disagreed, adding: “I don’t think that’s a good thing for him. I think at this stage to have four days off without competitive matches, it’s not easy.
“And especially for him, with probably the biggest match of his career coming up, playing for the number one spot against probably Roger Federer, it’s not going to be easy for him.”
Frenchman Monfils finished off a 6-4 2-6 7-5 1-6 8-6 victory over seventh seed David Ferrer to wild acclaim this afternoon in arguably the match of the tournament.
The pair returned to the court today after darkness had intervened last night with the Spaniard 2-0 up in the fourth set, and he wasted no time in levelling the match.
Ninth seed Monfils then took the initiative in the decider only to tighten up and squander two match points when serving for victory. Ferrer, who had been a dark horse for the title, then saved a third before Monfils finally broke serve in the 14th game.
Juan Ignacio Chela reached the quarter-finals for the first time since losing to Tim Henman in 2004 with a 4-6 6-2 1-6 7-6 (7/5) 6-2 win to end the run of qualifier Alejandro Falla.
The Argentinian said: “It was a really tough match. It’s a surprise for me to be again in the quarter-finals.”