Nadal beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-4 on the clay to take his winning set streak to 50 and eclipse McEnroe’s total which the American achieved on carpet in 1984.
Nadal, who is looking for a sixth career Madrid Open title, broke Schwartzman in the sixth game of each set and appeared to be on course for a comfortable win.
World number 16 Schwartzman served up a minor scare by breaking back for 4-4 in the second set, but Nadal responded immediately and closed out for a history-making win.
Nadal will next face the man he beat he beat in last year’s final, Dominic Thiem, after the fifth seed came from a set and a break down to edge out Croatian Borna Coric 2-6 7-6 (5) 6-4.
Coric served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and also had three break point chances in the eighth game of the decider before Thiem held his nerve to claim victory.
Previously In-form fourth seed Juan Martin Del Potro suffered a shock 3-6 6-4 7-6 (6) defeat to Dusan Lajovic, handing the Serbian the first win over a top 10 player of his career.
Lajovic will next face South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who reached his first Madrid quarter-final with a 6-3 7-6 (7) triumph over Kevin Anderson of Germany.
Britain’s Kyle Edmund built on his second round win over Novak Djokovic by seeing off Belgian eighth seed David Goffin 6-3 6-3, and will next face Denis Shapovalov, who beat Canadian compatriot Milos Raonic 6-4 6-4.
The final quarter-final will be between second seed Alexander Zverev – a 6-4 6-2 winner – over Leonardo Mayer, and John Isner, who edged Pablo Cuevas 6-7 (9) 7-6 (3) 7-6 (4).
Rafael Nadal is two sets away from breaking John McEnroe’s record of consecutive sets won on a single surface after the world No. 1 claimed his 48th set in a row on clay with a 6-3, 6-1 rout of Gael Monfils on Wednesday.
McEnroe’s mark of 49 consecutive sets won on carpet came in 1984 and Nadal can match or break that record when he takes on Diego Schwartzman in the Madrid Open third round on Thursday.
Nadal was nearly flawless against Monfils, dismissing the Frenchman, who returned from a back injury just last week, in 73 minutes.
The defending champion had to save three break points early in the first set but then never looked back, claiming a 20th straight victory on clay in the process.
Nadal seems to be laser-focused this clay season, winning 11th titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona before coming to Madrid. But for those wondering if he has an eye on McEnroe’s record, the Spaniard was clear in his thoughts about that.
“You find a new stat. I’m lost. Each time is a less important stat,” Nadal said in Spanish to a local reporter when quizzed about the prospect of breaking McEnroe’s mark.
“Look, if it was important, I had no idea about that stat. I am not saying that it’s not important, but what is important is I made it to the third round of this tournament. I’ve played a really good match. I beat an opponent who is difficult.
“The feelings are very good. This is what matters and what motivates me and gives me joy: the feeling to be able to play another day in front of the crowd here in Madrid.”
Nadal spent more than two months sidelined with a psoas injury before coming back early April to lead Spain in their Davis Cup quarter-final against Germany. He hasn’t lost a match since his return, sweeping all 13 he has contested so far.
Asked if there was something he feels he has specifically improved since his return from injury, or what he is most proud of during that period, the Mallorcan said: “I can’t improve a lot because I didn’t practice. That’s the real thing, no? I have been injured, and I didn’t have the chance to prepare my game a lot.
“What I am more proud, of course I did a lot of things well since I came back. I play with the right intensity, the right focus all the time. My backhand is working great. The forehand working well, too, as always, more or less. But the backhand is a shot that is working well.
“What I am most pleased with is I am recovered from my injury on the psoas. That makes me feel strong and to go on court with confidence that I can hold tough matches. That’s important for me especially on this surface.”
Karolina Pliskova is trying not to focus too much on her current eight-match winning streak but admits the fact that it has come on clay makes it special, particularly now as she prepares to take on Simona Halep in the Madrid quarter-finals on Thursday.
Halep has won her last 15 matches at the Caja Magica – the latest being a 6-1, 6-4 triumph over the other Pliskova twin, Kristyna.
Karolina Pliskova, who has improved a lot on clay over the past 12 months and made the 2017 Roland Garros semi-finals, before falling to Halep, trails the Romanian 1-6 head-to-head.
It is a match-up the tall Czech struggles with, but she can take confidence from how well she played against Halep in that French Open semi-final, stretching her to three sets before surrendering.
Pliskova, who won the Stuttgart title less than two weeks ago, had never made it past the second round in Madrid prior to this week and she’s now in the quarter-finals thanks to a 6-2, 6-3 victory over reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
— WTA (@WTA) May 9, 2018
“I try not to look back. So for me, like Stuttgart is over, but it’s good if I remember that we are on clay, so I didn’t lose any match on clay, except the one match against Julia (Goerges) in Fed Cup,” said Pliskova, when asked about her winning streak.
“So it feels good, for confidence for sure, it’s good to know I have like eight matches won on clay. Not only for this tournament, but for the next two tournaments coming up, Paris and Rome, it’s for sure good to know that I have couple of matches, tough matches, easy matches, everything possible now I have under my belt.”
Stephens entered the match with a 3-0 winning record against top-10 opposition in 2018 and she was actually the first to break serve on Wednesday.
But Pliskova won 20 of the following 22 points to retaliate, running away with the next five games to grab the opening set.
The Czech world No. 6 did not slow down in the second set, racing to a 4-1 lead and wrapped up the victory in 63 minutes.
Having already navigated a tough draw that saw her overcome Elena Vesnina, Victoria Azarenka and now Stephens, Pliskova is now ready for another huge test against Halep.
“There is not much to talk about because we know everything, you and I,” Pliskova said with a laugh. “On clay I played one of my best matches last year (in Paris). I lost but it was a very good match I think, I felt good, so there is no reason – now I have nothing to lose. My draw is very sh**** because having those three players in a row, you can have them in finals or semis but first, second, third round, and now Simona that’s the last point on the cake.
“But I have to somehow fight with it. I know she likes this tournament after being two times champion and now back in the quarters. I have to maybe try something different a little bit than I was playing the last couple of matches against her.”
Pliskova believes re-watching that French Open showdown from last year could be useful.
“I go sometimes back to this match because I felt well there so it’s a good match to see. I was not overpowering the shots, I was playing rallies, a little bit similar to today, playing rallies but in a kind of aggressive way. And waiting for some shorter ball and then I’ll attack,” said the 26-year-old.
“This is how I want to play but maybe it’s not going to be enough so then I have to push more a little bit.”