PARIS — Maybe, just maybe, Rafael Nadal was a tad vulnerable, the thinking went before this French Open.
He had lost three times on his beloved red clay already this year, more defeats than he ever had on the surface before heading to Roland Garros.
Then came an admission, after the Grand Slam tournament's third round, that his back was bothering him and slowing his serves.
Well, leave it to the eight-time French Open champion's upcoming quarterfinal opponent — 2013 runner-up David Ferrer, one of the men who beat Nadal on clay this spring — to set the record straight.
"Rafael," Ferrer said, "is always the favorite."
Nadal certainly looked the part in the fourth round Monday, when he won 18 points in a row during one stretch en route to beating 83rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 for a record 32nd consecutive victory at the French Open. That broke Nadal's own mark of 31 and moved him a step closer to a fifth straight title in Paris.
The No. 1-ranked Nadal, now 63-1 for his career at the tournament, has won all 12 sets he's played in Paris in 2014, dropping a total of 23 games.
Now he takes on No. 5 Ferrer, who eliminated No. 19 Kevin Anderson of South Africa 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1.
Last year's French Open final is one of 21 losses for Ferrer in 27 matches against fellow Spaniard Nadal. But Ferrer won their most recent meeting in straight sets, on April 18 at the Monte Carlo Masters.
The other quarterfinal on the top half of the draw will be Wimbledon champion Andy Murray against 23rd-seeded Gael Monfils of France.
No. 7 Murray beat No. 24 Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (3).
Monfils advanced with a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 win against 41st-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain.
Two women's quarterfinals will be No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania vs. 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani of Italy vs. No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany.
"I played aggressive," Halep said after defeating the last American singles player left in the tournament, No. 15 Sloane Stephens, 6-4, 6-3. "I dominated the match, I think."
Petkovic's 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory over 148th-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Nertherlands was the only three-setter for women on Monday, a two-hour struggle filled with 77 unforced errors and 14 service breaks.