Rafael Nadal believes he can snatch a third Wimbledon title if he carries his first-week form into the business end of the tournament.
Champion in 2008 and 2010, Nadal has experienced some difficult years at Wimbledon since then and his days as a grass-court contender looked to be slipping away.
But the bustling Spaniard has played some sensational tennis in his opening three matches and faces Luxembourg veteran Gilles Muller on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals.
It would be a monumental upset were Muller to topple 31-year-old Nadal, who is three years his junior and a fellow left-hander.
And Nadal says the key to his success over the remainder of the tournament will be to avoid letting his level slip.
“I’m very aware of the fact I have a very serious rival in front of me, someone who’s a specialist on this surface. I’m going to try to be courageous, aggressive and play well,” Nadal said. “If I were able to play at the same level I’ve played so far it would be very good.
“I have to try to reach that level, to try to maintain that level because evidently the level was very high.”
Nadal is determined to protect his body, and as such only Roger Federer of the top 30 has played fewer tournaments over the past year.
‘I’ve had the good fortunes of not needing to play every week,” Nadal said.
“Whenever I’ve got to a competition I’ve considered it a special situation, because if you were competing every week it becomes a routine.
“On the one hand it’s good that you give yourself more opportunities in the year, but on the other hand it loses the essence of going to compete and what it means.”
His great rival, Federer, tackles Grigor Dimitrov on Monday in a match that pairs the Swiss seven-time Wimbledon winner with a player so often likened to him, albeit without the same level of success. Dimitrov is poised to surge back into the top 10 after almost two-and-a-half years outside the elite, and says he will relish being involved on fourth-round day.
“I really appreciate it. I cherish it. But my job is far from over,” Dimitrov said.
And he has no fear of Wimbledon’s premier show court, which will stage his clash with Federer. “I’ve only played on big courts here. I’m pretty pleased with that,” Dimitrov said.
“I’m not going to shy away from Centre Court. I’ve played there before, I’ve won. I know my way now to the Centre Court, which is great, not like the first time I walked out.”
Dimitrov defeated Andy Murray on Centre three years ago, suggesting his confidence is not misplaced bravado.
“I’m just excited. I’m not hiding it,” Dimitrov said. “I appreciate being in that second week. You know, my goal, ultimate goal, is always to win Wimbledon.”
Federer, who has been bothered by a cold, may need to be 100 per cent healthy to fend off the Bulgarian.
“Yeah, he’s in the prime of his career you would think right now,” Federer said. “I expect that every time I have played him he has become better. I expect the same on Monday.”
Novak Djokovic tackles France’s Adrian Mannarino, defending champion Murray plays another Frenchman in Benoit Paire, and last year’s runner-up Milos Raonic goes up against German Alexander Zverev. Austrian Dominic Thiem faces off against Czech Tomas Berdych, Roberto Bautista Agut will have his hands full against Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s conqueror Sam Querrey has a tricky assignment against South African Kevin Anderson, a match where serve should be king.
Two-time semi-finalist Tsonga had earlier seen his hopes of progress killed off in four minutes and 15 seconds.
Tsonga trailed Querrey 6-5 in the deciding set on Friday before fading light meant play was halted. When they returned to Court Two the following morning, Tsonga instantly dropped serve to lose the contest 6-2 3-6 7-6 (7/5) 1-6 7-5.
“I’m frustrated because I lost and I stayed like two minutes on court today,” said Tsonga.
As for who will be the eventual king of Wimbledon, Monday’s thinning-out of the draw should provide one or two more fresh clues.