Rio de Janeiro: Rafael Nadal reached the Olympic Games quarter-finals Thursday, winning the first of 10 matches he will need to sweep in just four days to secure triple Rio gold.
The 2008 champion defeated Gilles Simon 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 for his eighth win over the Frenchman in nine meetings.
Nadal, a 14-time major winner, is playing in his first tournament in two months after a wrist injury caused an early withdrawal from the French Open.
"I won, that's what's important. I'm in the quarter-finals, which is very good news," said Nadal.
"A few days ago I wouldn't imagine being in this position, but we have the desire and the energy high to give my best at every moment and that's what I am doing."
After torrential rain wiped out Wednesday's entire programme, the 30-year-old faced an epic test of his fitness and stamina.
He heads out to Court Three later Thursday with Marc Lopez to take on Canada's Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil with a spot in the men's doubles final at stake.
Then, in the evening, the Spaniard readjusts his compass for his first ever mixed doubles match.
Nadal is partnering French Open champion Garbine Muguruza against Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic.
"Now comes the most important match of the day for us, which is the doubles, where we are closer to a medal. We will fight to the death for it," added Nadal.
Simon's only win over Nadal came eight years ago, but he proved a thorn in the side of the Spaniard in the opening set.
He broke for 2-1 before the third seed levelled at 2-2. Nadal was quickly 4-2 up but the dogged 15th seed hit back in the seventh game.
Nadal swept to a 5/1 lead in the tiebreaker but he still could not shake off the 31-year-old who clung on for 5/5 before the former world number one grabbed the opener.
Nadal grabbing a double break to stretch to 4-0 lead in the second set on his way into the last-eight.
"He has more firepower than me," said Simon who saw little sign of any frailty in Nadal despite his long absence.
"He's still tough to beat. There were a lot of long rallies, but he never plays three or four bad points in the row. I didn't see any problems with him physically."
- Del Potro through -
Juan Martin del Potro, who put out world number one Novak Djokovic in the first round, made the last-eight with a 6-7 (4/7), 6-1, 6-2 win over Taro Daniel of Japan.
Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion who has suffered a series of wrist injuries, will face Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut, the 10th seed, for a place in the semi-finals.
Del Potro, now ranked at 141 in the world, was a bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympics.
"I am looking forward to going far, but it will be tough against Bautista Agut. He is fast from the baseline and plays well on this surface," said del Potro.
After Wednesday's deluge, the tournament was playing catch-up with the women's singles quarter-finals to be completed.
Elina Svitolina, the conqueror of defending champion and world number one Serena Williams, is to face Petra Kvitova while Monica Puig meets Laura Siegemund.
In the bottom half of the draw, second seed and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber tackle Britain's Johanna Konta.
The winner will face American seventh seed Madison Keys who breezed into the semi-finals by seeing off Russia's Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-1.
Later, defending men's champion Andy Murray faces volatile Fabio Fognini of Italy.
The winner will take on 12th-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States for a semi-final place. Johnson brushed aside Russia's Evgeny Donskoy 6-1, 6-1.
Japan's fourth seed Kei Nishikori meets Andrej Martin of Slovakia.