Nadal in last 8; could face bogeyman Soderling

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns against Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia in the fourth round match at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris. Nadal won the match in three sets 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. (AP)

Five-time champion Rafael Nadal reached the French Open quarter-finals on Monday with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 win over Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic and could face Roland Garros bogeyman Robin Soderling next.

It was another low-key display by the top-seeded Spaniard against the veteran Ljubicic before he took his Paris record to 42 wins and just one loss.

Big-swinging Swedish fifth seed Soderling, who inflicted that shock defeat in the fourth round in 2009 before Nadal gained revenge in the 2010 final, tackles French 18th seed Gilles Simon later on Monday in the last 16.

Nadal, bidding for a sixth French Open title to take him level with Bjorn Borg's record, has looked a shadow of his usual powerful self in Paris, shaken by the super-charged form of Novak Djokovic.

The second seeded Serb snatched his Madrid and Rome Masters claycourt titles in the run-up to Paris, and the pressure appears to be telling.

The great Spaniard dropped 42 games in the first three rounds, the most he has ever surrendered in his French Open career, and needed five sets to see off America's John Isner in the first round.

"There was a lot of wind today which made it very awkward," said Nadal. "I played better in the last two sets and I am getting a little better as the tournament goes on." 

On Monday, he was a break to the good to lead 2-1 in the opening set before Ljubucic, a 2006 semi-finalist, hit back for 3-3.

Nadal stepped up the pressure on the Croatian's serve, however, and snatched the set when Ljubicic sent his single-handed backhand wide.

Two breaks in the seventh and ninth games of the second set helped Nadal stretch his lead, the set secured with a smart, down-the-line whipped forehand.

A break for 3-1 in the third set seemed to be the foundation that the 24-year-old required, but Ljubicic, at 32 the oldest man left in the draw, hit back for 2-3.

But an immediate break to love gave Nadal a 4-2 lead and he claimed the tie in the ninth game when Ljubicic again went long with a loose backhand.

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