Wimbledon: Nadal leads charge of old brigade into quarters

London: Rafael Nadal reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the seventh time on Monday as the evergreen 30-somethings of men’s tennis threatened to take a stranglehold at the All England Club.

Third seed Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion, swept to an easy 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 win over outclassed Joao Sousa of Portugal. He will next play either Sam Querrey or Tennys Sandgren in what will be his 39th appearance in a Grand Slam quarter-final.

The 33-year-old Spaniard is chasing his 19th title at the majors, which would put him just one behind the all-time record of 20 held by Roger Federer — his potential opponent in the semi-finals. “It was a good, solid match. It’s true that the serve probably didn’t work as good as two days ago,” said Nadal, who had been equally ruthless in the third round against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga when he lost just seven games.

“A lot of positive things out there. To be back in the quarter-finals is great news for me. Happy to be where I am and the body is holding well, playing some good tennis — and straight sets helps.”

Also joining Nadal in the last-eight was his compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut who reached his first Wimbledon quarter-final and second at the majors this year when he defeated France’s Benoit Paire 6-3, 7-5, 6-2. The 31-year-old world number 22 will face either 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic of Canada or Argentina’s Guido Pella for a place in the semi-finals.

Bautista Agut, who has now defeated Paire seven times in seven meetings, also made the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in January. With Nadal and Bautista Agut safely through, the Wimbledon quarter-finals were turning into an old boys’ club.

Later Monday, eight-time winner Roger Federer, 37, and world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic, 33, can also make the last eight. Should Sam Querrey, Fernando Verdasco and Mikhail Kukushkin also win, then seven of the eight quarter-finalists on Wednesday will all be aged over 30.

For the first time, Monday’s last-16 line-up featured more players over 30 than under for the first time in the modern era. Federer, the second seed, tackles Italy’s world number 20 Matteo Berrettini in what will be the Swiss great’s record 17th fourth round appearance at the All England Club.

Defending champion Djokovic was just as dominant seeing off French rookie Ugo Humbert 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the Wimbledon last-eight for the 11th time, and 45th time at the Slams. Djokovic said he, Federer and Nadal are so dominant because they ‘transcend the sport’.

“I am the player that I am today because of these guys, because of the rivalries I have with two of them,’ said the four-time champion. ‘It does transcend. It’s like Tom Brady (in the NFL), for example, who at his age is still playing on the top level, winning rings and everything. LeBron James (in NBA), Serena Williams.”

Nadal, on 19 majors and just one behind Federer who he could face in the semi-finals this week, believes the pack will catch up. However, he does not want to put a time-frame on when that might be. After all, he, Federer and Djokovic have amassed an astonishing 54 Grand Slam titles between them. Of other active players, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have three apiece while Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro have one each.

“I am not thinking about sending a message to anyone or the next generation, how they are coming or not. I know they’re good. I know there’s going to be a day that they are going to be in front of us because they will play better than us or because we are leaving. We are not kids any more.”