Nadal battles back for a third time
Rafael Nadal is making a habit of starting slowly at this Wimbledon but once again the world No.1 rallied from losing the first set to eventually blow away Mikhail Kukushkin's challenge on Centre Court.
Kukushkin was looking for just his second win over a top-10 player and got off to the perfect start by snatching the first set on a tie-breaker.
However, Nadal came back from a set down for the third time in as many matches at SW19 to win 6-7(4) 6-1 6-1 6-1 in two hours and 34 minutes and make it through to the second week of the tournament for the first time since 2011.
"I'm very happy to be in the second week again," said Nadal. "I'm playing well, good speed, fighting for every ball and finding the right solutions in the game."
Having suffered early exits for the past two years, Nadal will take heart from his record of reaching the Wimbledon final each time he has previously made the last 16.
On those five occasions, he has gone on to win the title twice and been runner-up three times, with Nadal feeling in good shape as he hunts a 15th grand slam.
"The body is fine. The court is a little more slippery than in the second week, but I finished all the matches playing better than what I started, which is the important thing," added Nadal.
"At the beginning he was playing really well. I had a few mistakes with the second serve in that tie-break. I didn't serve my best and that was the thing. You can't be second best in a tie-break against a player who is playing well, it's impossible."
In the opening set, Kukushkin couldn't get a sniff on Nadal's serve as the Spaniard reeled off two love service games on the way to a tie-breaker.
However, Kukushkin came out swinging and, after Nadal sent a backhand long, took the first set in three minutes short of an hour.
After disappearing off court for a bathroom break, Nadal went about his mission quickly, breaking Kukushkin in the fourth game of the second set. An important hold from 30-30 then saw Nadal keep his advantage and extend his lead to 4-1.
An incredible shot from Nadal, as he backpedalled fully outside the tramlines to fire a forehand winner, brought him a fourth game in a row before he served out the second set in just 34 minutes.
Nadal continued to march on, breaking Kukushkin again before adding a fifth love service game for a 2-0 lead in the third.
Kukushkin finally stopped the rot by winning his first game in eight, but Nadal broke him at the next attempt for a 4-1 lead and again to take the third, this time six minutes quicker than he did the previous set.
Another love service game and an early break saw Nadal continue his charge, though Kukushkin brought up his first break points after two hours and 10 minutes. However, he spurned both and Nadal opened up a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
Kukushkin then managed to save four break points before holding but couldn't repeat the trick on his next service, with Nadal taking his second of three chances to go 5-1 up before closing out the win with a trademark forehand winner and an accompanying fist-pump.