The 21-year-old Spaniard was the last man to get past the third round and, for an hour and a half, looked like being the first to go out at the next stage after losing the first two sets to an inspired Mikhail Youzhny.
But the Russian 14th seed faded badly after suffering a recurrence of a lower-back injury which forced his withdrawal from the Halle tournament last month and Nadal seized on his opportunity to secure a 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 victory.
Said Nadal afterwards: “After the first two sets, I played my best game on grass in my life. I have never played like this on grass, very aggressive all the time, serving well and returning very well.”
Nadal came from 2-0 down for only the third time in his career to secure a quarter-final clash with seventh seed Tomas Berdych.
There will be no let-up for the claycourt specialist, who will be playing every day to make up for lost time, but he remains unfazed by the prospect and insists he is gaining confidence on grass.
“With every win, you improve your confidence in every surface,” he said. “I feel I am playing great.
“Grass is not my worst surface. I played in the final last year, I’m in the quarters this year and I played quarter-finals twice at Queen’s so I like playing on grass a lot.”
Seventh seed Tomas Berdych progressed to the quarter-finals of a grand slam for the first time following a four-set win over Jonas Bjorkman.
The 21-year-old from the Czech Republic comfortably outclassed the veteran Swede 6-4 6-0 6-7 (6-8) 6-0 to set up that tie with Nadal.
There was a moment of controversy when Bjorkman reacted angrily to a decision by the umpire, the 35-year-old lashing out at the ball in frustration and subsequently refusing to shake hands with the official after the match.
Meanwhile Marcos Baghdatis wasted little time in booking his passage to the Wimbledon quarter-finals with a straight-sets demolition of Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko.
The Cypriot Baghdatis took a little over two hours to vanquish his misfiring opponent 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 to book a last-eight meeting with Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic dragged himself into his first Wimbledon quarter-final and ranked his victory over ex-champ Lleyton Hewitt as his best ever on grass.
The Serb triumphed in three tie-breakers 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-2) 4-6 7-6 (7-5) in a marathon match lasting three hours and 12 minutes.
“He’s probably one of the most difficult players in today’s tennis to play against on this surface,” Djokovic said.
“I knew I had to be 100% physically right from the off if I was to have any chance of winning this match.”
Champion Roger Federer’s tie with Juan Carlos Ferrero was stopped due to rain after just 37 minutes — with the score tantalisingly at 5-5 in the first set.
Federer had not played for six days as the number one seed had polished off Marat Safin in straight sets last Friday.
Courtesy of a bye due to an injury to Tommy Haas, Federer did not strike a ball in competition until a little after 3pm yesterday — and he looked ring-rusty before the abandonment.