Paris:Rafael Nadal breezed past Lleyton Hewitt for the third time in four years at Roland Garros on Friday as the four-time champion took another confident step closer to a record fifth French Open title.
Nadal won 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 to clinch a 31st consecutive win at the tournament and will now tackle either compatriot David Ferrer or Robin Soderling of Sweden for a place in the quarter-finals.
"For sure it was my best match here so far," said the champion.
"I felt much better today and a win against Lleyton is always a great win. It was an amazing result."
The 22-year-old Spaniard stormed to two quick breaks to lead 5-1 in the first set against the former world number one before wrapping up the opener after just 30 minutes.
He broke again to love in the first game of the second but the gritty Hewitt, who fought back from two sets down to beat Ivo Karlovic in the first round, clinched his first break of the contest to level the set at 2-2.
But it was a brief respite as Nadal, six years younger than the former Wimbledon and US Open winner, broke back to lead 4-3 with a breathtaking forehand, picked up at his toes.
Nadal won nine of the match's last 10 games to take victory after less than two hours on court.
"It's tough against him," admitted Hewitt. "You have to start well as he is such a great player when he's in front. He goes for his shots and dictates all the time so it gets harder and harder.
"He's hitting the ball extremely clean and he has that heavy spin. He makes you rush, he hits passing shots on the run and makes you try harder."
Fernando Verdasco edged closer to another potentially epic Grand Slam showdown with Nadal after taking the hard road to see off Spanish compatriot Nicolas Almagro.
Eighth seed Verdasco needed nine match points to defeat the 31st seed Almagro 6-2, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (10/8) in their third round clash and will next face Russian 10th seed Nikolay Davydenko, a two-time semi-finalist.
A win there would give the 25-year-old Verdasco a probable last eight tie with Nadal against whom he lost in five sets in the Australian Open semi-finals this year.
Verdasco, who has never got beyond the fourth round at Roland Garros, also lost to Nadal in the quarter-finals in Rome and Madrid this spring.
Serbian fourth seed Novak Djokovic reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 win over Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Djokovic will face German 29th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber who put out Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 champion, for a place in the last 16.
His match against Stakhovksy had been suspended late Thursday, when he led two sets to love after being down 0-4 in the second, and he raced to a 5-0 lead in the third on Friday's resumption to provide the basis for victory.
Chilean 12th seed Fernando Gonzalez, twice a quarter-finalist and the junior champion in 1998, ended the hopes of French wildcard Josselin Ouanna, who put out Marat Safin in the previous round, with a 7-5, 6-3, 7-5 win.
Gonzalez will take on 30th seeded Romanian Victor Hanescu, who stunned French seventh seed Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, for for a place in the quarter-finals.
Davydenko, a semi-finalist in 2005 and 2007, saw off Stanilas Wawrinka of Switzerland, another former junior champion, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Later Friday, third seed Andy Murray of Britain meets unseeded Serbian Janko Tipsarevic looking to reach the last 16 for the first time.
The winner of that tie will face Croatian 13th seed Marin Cilic who knocked out Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3