Vol. 5 Num 694 Sat. May 13, 2006  

50-0 for Nadal

Rafael Nadal clinched his 50th successive victory on clay here on Thursday with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Britain's Tim Henman to reach the Rome Masters quarter-finals as he closed in on Guillermo Vilas's all-time record on the surface.

If Nadal successfully defends his title here on Sunday, he will equal the record set by Argentine Vilas who managed 53 straight wins on clay in 1977.

But if the French Open champion is to reach that landmark, it is likely he will have to overcome world number one Roger Federer after the Swiss top seed reached the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Radek Stepanek.

The world number one, who has reached the final of the last five Masters Series events in which he has played and won four of them, took just 56 minutes to beat the Czech 14th seed.

Nadal eased past the veteran Henman to make the last eight.

He broke to lead 3-1 in the first set and again in the eighth game of the one-sided encounter.

Any hope Henman had of staging a comeback was dashed in the fourth game of the second set when Nadal unleashed two sweet passing shots, which left the Briton struggling.

The Spaniard wrapped up the third round clash with a smash at the net to set up a last eight match-up against big-hitting number ten seed Fernando Gonzalez of Chile who put out Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4.

"Fifty? That's a lot of wins but the most important thing is to be in the quarter-finals," said the teenager.

"I played a serious match and I got a quick break in both sets and that was the crucial thing.

"Now I play Gonzalez and that will be difficult. I have lost my two matches against him. They were a long time ago -- in 2003 and 2004 -- but I don't forget easily."

Federer, who lost to Nadal in Monte Carlo last month, had to fight back from 40-0 down when 5-4 ahead in the second set before clinching victory against the dogged Stepanek.