The No.2 seed beat Argentine veteran David Nalbandian 7-6 (5), 6-1, 7-5 to progress to the round-of-16 but the toil from the match played in muggy conditions caught up to him in the media room.
He rolled his head back, squeezed his eyes shut, covered his contorted face with his left arm as he stopped taking question. He paused between deep breaths to plead in Spanish, "Can you call a trainer for me, please?" Then slowly the defending tournament champion slithered out of his chair and onto the ground.
Within minutes, Nadal was sitting up, and then standing, after being given bags of ice to soothe what was diagnosed as leg cramps.
Even if it all amounted to nothing serious medically _ as Nadal and his manager would later insist _ it was a bizarre scene, one at least as memorable as anything that took place on court Sunday at the year's last Grand Slam tournament.
"It's bad luck it happened here," Nadal said, "and not in the locker room." Andy Murray and David Ferrer _ seeded fourth and fifth respectively _ had much easier Sundays, both notching straight-sets victories.
Murray beat No.25 seed Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to set up a fourth-round clash with unseeded American Donald Young, who reached that stage of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, beating Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.
Ferrer downed German Florian Mayer 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (2) and will also face an American next, in the shape of Andy Roddick, who downed France's Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (2). Four American men had made it to the last 16 in a strong showing by the host nation.
Roddick said the Nadal incident was not an uncommon one in locker rooms, but rarely seen by the public.
"Every single player in there has had that happen before.
Every single one. What we do _ we run around, run miles and miles and miles and miles on the tennis court in nasty weather _ (and) you throw nerves in there. I mean, it happens. As long as it doesn't happen during a match, you're fine." "Cramps are fine. It's not an injury. A cramp is a cramp.
When you go to bed and your foot cramps, it's the same thing." Others moving on included No. 12 Gilles Simon, who got past 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (3); and unseeded Luxembourger Gilles Muller who beat Russian Igor Kunitsyn 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 and will face Nadal for a quarterfinal berth.
Nadal wasn't the only player who appeared to be bothered by Sunday's heat and humidity: No. 26 Flavia Pennetta of Italy felt nauseous during her 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory over No. 13 Peng Shuai of China.
"It was a bunch of things: the heat, the tension," said Pennetta, who knocked off three-time major champion Maria Sharapova in the third round. "It's not normal, but it happens." Pennetta next plays Angelique Kerber of Germany, who defeated Monica Niculescu of Romania 6-4, 6-3.
Fifth-seeded Sam Stosur, the 2010 French Open runner-up, isn't likely to forget her 6-2, 6-7 (15), 6-3 victory Sunday night over No. 25 Maria Kirilenko _ or at least the second-set tiebreaker. The 17-15 score made it the longest tiebreaker played by two women at any Grand Slam tournament, according to the WTA.
Kirilenko won that set _ saving five match points in the process _ to force a third, but the Australian prevailed and will next play 2010 U.S. Open and Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva, who defeated No. 22 Sabine Lisicki 6-2, 6-3.
Much earlier, on that same court, Nadal dealt with two too-close-for-comfort sets and was treated by a trainer for a blister on his right foot during an injury timeout.
The 76th-ranked Nalbandian served for the first set at 5-4, but double-faulted on break point. Then, at 3-3 in the tiebreaker, Nalbandian double-faulted again, helping the second-seeded Nadal nose ahead. After a quick second set, Nalbandian broke to begin the third, but Nadal broke right back and wound up finishing things in a little more than 2½ hours.
"I was happy about almost everything today," Nadal said.
"my movements worked pretty well, and the forehand worked really well, and the backhand, too."