It was far from straight forward for the 13-time Roland Garros champion against Felix Auger Aliassime, coached by Nadal’s uncle Toni, as he dropped the first set on Philippe Chatrier.
The fifth seed responded impressively to win the next two sets and although he was forced into a decider, Nadal came through to win 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 against the Canadian.
“It’s a very important victory for me without a doubt,” Nadal said after the match.
“I didn’t start well, I had a lot of opportunities in the first set but did not come back.
“After coming back in the next two, I finished the third much better. I’m very happy with the attitude at the end because I was able to be more aggressive and go to the net near the end, which made a difference without a doubt.”
Next up for Nadal is world number one Djokovic, in what will be the 59th meeting between two of the greatest players of all time. Djokovic currently edges the head-to-head with 30 victories.
It’s 16 years since the pair first met at Roland Garros, in the quarter-finals back in 2006 when Djokovic retired with injury when two sets down. Since then they have faced each other eight times at the French Open, with Nadal winning six of those matches.
Djokovic won in the semi-finals last year though on his way to the title and he is yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament, breezing past Diego Schwartzman earlier on Sunday.
The Serbian was far from popular on Suzanne Lenglen and had to contend with a significant amount of booing, but that never looked like stopping him as he cruised into the quarter-finals where a familiar foe awaits.
“I’m glad that I didn’t spend too much time on court myself up to the quarters knowing that playing [Nadal] at Roland-Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else that happens,” Djokovic said.
Alexander Zverev had to come through a long tie-break in the opening set but once he won that 13-11, he took control against Bernabe Zapata Miralles with a 7-6 7-5 6-3 victory.
The German has been far from his best for much of the run to the quarter-finals, but he has made it through and could face Carlos Alcaraz in what would be a hugely-anticipated clash. Alcaraz plays Karen Khachanov later on Sunday.
The men’s quarter-final draw will be confirmed on Monday when those in the bottom half of the draw play their fourth-round matches – Daniil Medvedev, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas are among those still in the tournament.