PARIS - Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray can set up a French Open semi-final blockbuster on Wednesday but standing in their way are warhorse David Ferrer and flamboyant French star Gael Monfils.
Nadal, the eight-time champion and bidding to become the first man to capture five Roland Garros titles in succession, takes a 21-6 career record into his quarter-final with fellow Spaniard Ferrer, the man he beat in last year's final.
The world number one, who turned 28 on Tuesday, has had an untroubled path to the last-eight, facing his biggest challenges off the court with a steady stream of questions over his pre-tournament form and the state of his troublesome back.
His 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 win over Serbia's Dusan Lajovic in the fourth round, where he allowed his oppponent just 15 points on his serve, took his record in Paris to 63 wins and just one loss.
But still the questions remain over whether or not he will have the staying power to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a ninth time on Sunday and claim a 14th Grand Slam title which would put him just three behind the record held by a declining Roger Federer.
"My back can be pretty unpredictable," said Nadal.
"In Australia (where he needed treatment in the final) I felt some pain, and here in Paris I try to co-exist with this pain. But sometimes it changes. I'm not lying." Nadal also believes that his almost perfect record in the French capital as well as his dominance over Ferrer will count for nothing on Wednesday.
Twelve months ago, Nadal allowed his Davis Cup teammate just eight games in a desperately one-sided final while, in 2012, Ferrer claimed a meagre five games in their semi-final.
But the 32-year-old got the upper hand the last time the two met with a straight sets quarter-final win in Monte Carlo in April.
"The past is past. I can think about the past in a few years when I will be in Mallorca fishing or playing golf," said Nadal.
10 in row for Ferrer
Ferrer will be playing in a 10th successive Grand Slam quarter-final on Wednesday.
He has little time for the critics who wrote off Nadal on the eve of Roland Garros after his countryman endured his worst European claycourt season in a decade.
"He's No. 1 in the world. Rafael won the Masters in Madrid, reached the final in Rome (against Novak Djokovic) and that was a close match. Rafael is always the favourite and it is always difficult to beat him." Like Ferrer, Monfils is also searching for a first Grand Slam title.
The personable 27-year-old, a semi-finalist in 2008, faces Wimbledon champion Murray in the latest episode of a rivalry which began when they were children.
"It's been a long time I've known him, and it's always fun to play against him," said Monfils who was 11 while Murray was 10 when they first met in the renowned Les Petits As junior tournament in the French town of Tarbres.
Murray can recall his first sight of Monfils.
"He used to play with glasses. He had shaved hair, but like quite a high cut. Yeah, he was the same as he is now. He was just a great athlete, moved unbelievably well, smiling on the court," said Murray.
"He's always been a great entertainer, and he's great for the sport." Murray is bidding to make the semi-finals for the second time after also reaching the last four in 2011.
He has already endured a testing Roland Garros where he played the longest fifth set of his Paris career to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round.
Murray then won plaudits for his sportsmanship by conceding a point to Fernando Verdasco in a stormy fourth round encounter.
The Scot will take a 3-2 career lead over Monfils into Wednesday's match.
Monfils won their last match at the Paris Masters in 2010 and also won their only other meeting at Roland Garros in the first round back in 2006.