MADRID, May 9 (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal remained on course for a possible semi-final clash with great rival Roger Federer when he thumped unseeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-2 6-3 to claim a spot in the last eight of the Madrid Open on Thursday.
The Spanish world number five fell in the third round of the clay Masters event last year but never looked under pressure against Youzhny and showed his recent seven-month injury layoff had not robbed him of any agility.
He thrilled the home crowd at the Magic Box arena when he sealed victory by chasing down a Youzhny drop shot and whipping a forehand across court before indulging in one of his trademark fist pumps.
A former world number one and the current French Open champion, clay king Nadal slipped down the rankings after he was sidelined by a knee injury but has won four titles since his return in February and is chasing a third triumph in Madrid.
“We are just doing what we can every day,” the 26-year-old Majorcan said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster La Sexta when asked about his physical condition.
“We are in the quarter-finals and it makes me very happy to have another chance to play in Madrid in front of these magnificent fans,” he added.
“It’s not the time to be talking more than necessary. I will try to enjoy every moment as much as possible.”
Federer, the defending champion in the Spanish capital, plays Japanese 14th seed Kei Nishikori in the third round later on Thursday.
The Swiss maestro has enjoyed a few weeks of rest and is playing his first tournament since losing to Nadal at the Indian Wells Masters in March.
The pair have met 29 times going back to 2004 and Nadal has won 19 of those encounters, including 12 of their 14 matches on clay. However, one of Federer’s victories on the red dust came in 2009 in the final in Madrid, where the faster conditions are better suited to his game.
On the other side of the draw, third seed Andy Murray can secure his place in the last eight with a win against Gilles Simon later on Thursday.
Briton Murray has a 10-1 winning record against the 16th-seeded Frenchman, his only defeat coming in the Rome Masters in 2007 in their first meeting.
Murray’s chances of reaching the final were boosted when Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic, who he could have met in the last four, was dumped out by unseeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov on Tuesday. (Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Just)