Nadal, who was twice taken to four sets in the opening week of the tournament, needed two hours and 22 minutes to see off the world No25 6-4 6-2 7-6 (8-6), though he might have wrapped things up more swiftly had it not been for an uncharacteristic wobble when serving for the match at 5-3 in the third.
He will face in-form American Taylor Fritz, to whom he lost in the final at Indian Wells earlier this year, in the last eight as he targets a third SW19 crown to go with the French and Australian Open titles he has won already in 2022. Beyond that, a blockbuster semi-final against Nick Kyrgios remains on the cards after the Australian came through his own fourth-round clash, against America’s Brandon Nakashima, in five sets earlier on Monday.
It was Nadal’s most complete performance of the Championships so far, showcasing glimpses of his best tennis, though in truth he still did not have to produce it too consistently against an opponent who made 34 unforced errors to his 17 and double-faulted seven times, including in several key moments.
Van de Zandschulp saved two break points in his opening service game but then found his rhythm and the first set seemed destined for a tie-break until a double-fault from the Dutchman opened the door at 4-5 and gave Nadal two set points. He needed both, but went ahead as Van de Zandschlup left a forehand up the line wide.
The underdog had his first break point at the start of the second set but Nadal’s serve proved too strong and the opportunity came and went. He was made to regret it immediately, taken to deuce in the next game before twice finding the net needlessly to give Nadal a set and a break advantage.
Van de Zandschulp was soon serving to avoid a two-set deficit, but having saved two set points he blundered again with another costly double fault that left Nadal cruising. Last night’s Centre Court headliner, Novak Djokovic, was outraged that his match did not get underway until gone 8pm but by the same time here, this one was all but over.
When Nadal raced to 40-0 in his opening game in the third set it seemed the end might come quickly but Van de Zandschlup rallied to break for the first time in the match. That only served to poke the bear, however, and within minutes, thanks to a couple of stunning Nadal winners, perhaps his best of the evening, the set was back on serve.
Nadal began to go through the gears and as shots continued to fly past him from unlikely angles, Van de Zandschlup visibly, but understandably, began to lose belief. Nadal was double-fist-pumping, his opponent in disbelief at being beaten by a cross-court backhand that saw him broken again in the third and serving to stay in the match.
To his credit, he not only did that but also took advantage of some Nadal sloppiness to break back as the No2 seed let complacency creep in looking to serve out the match.
Nadal, clearly furious with himself for having risked putting his 36-year-old body through an unwanted extra set again, came out firing in the tie-break and snatched an early mini-break before going on to bring up three match points. Again, though, with the end in sight he was in danger of erring, letting all three slide by, before victory was eventually secured when Van de Zandschlup blazed a straightforward volley wide.