Rafael Nadal started slowly again but the prospect of a Wimbledon upset was swiftly doused as poor Mikhail Kukushkin felt the full force of the Spaniard at his best.

After dropping the opening sets in his earlier matches against Martin Klizan and Lukas Rosol, Nadal astonishingly did the same again against the world number 63 from Kazakhstan.

But his recovery spelt out Nadal's ambition for the week ahead as he sprinted home 6-7 (4/7) 6-1 6-1 6-1 under the Centre Court roof.

It is the first time in three years that Nadal has reached the second week at the All England Club, and the Spaniard said: "I'm playing well. I would be lying if I said anything else."

He immediately qualified his comment by adding: "But the surface is an open opportunity to everybody because the matches can be very close."

Watched from the Royal Box by sporting stars including former Real Madrid star David Beckham, Spaniard Nadal - a supporter of the Bernabeu giants - finished with his arms aloft, flinging his wristbands and headband into the adoring crowd, and departed with a broad smile across his face.

Three matches in, and it appears Nadal has played himself into peak form, comfortable again on grass after the transition from clay, and unmistakeably in the frame to land what would be his third Wimbledon title.

He made sure of a fourth-round place by ripping a forehand into the left corner, Kukushkin powerless to prevent the obviously superior man in the contest racking up a 41st winner. A particularly frugal 12 unforced errors came from the Nadal racquet.

The 28-year-old from Majorca has done the French Open and Wimbledon double in the same season twice before, and after his ninth Roland Garros triumph earlier this month he expected it would take him time to adjust to the grass.

Once Kukushkin had played well above his station to take the opening set, Nadal was untroubled.

But there might have been real trouble on the very first point.
With the roof having been closed long before they got under way, the increased humidity in what had become effectively an indoor arena meant the grass became slightly more moist than usual.

Nadal, playing a forehand at close to full stretch, took a heavy fall but was back to his feet almost before the crowd had an opportunity to gasp.

They were soon transfixed by what began as a most engaging battle, the flat, swishing forehand of Kukushkin proving a fearsome weapon that left Nadal flat-footed at times.

The little-known 26-year-old, coached by wife Anastasiia, had played Nadal twice previously and not won more than three games in a set, but he twice made the world number one serve to stay in the opener, at 5-4 and 6-5 behind.

Nadal coped with the pressure, and then snatched an early advantage in the tie-break, but that was soon wiped out, and on his second opportunity Kukushkin took set point when a backhand landed long.

It was either the start of something big - memories of Rosol in 2012 and Steve Darcis last year sprang to mind - or Kukushkin had burned himself out with the extraordinary effort he mustered to edge ahead.

The sorry truth for Kukushkin was that he had little left in the tank.
Nadal slipped again in the second game of the second set but he was back on his feet and finally into his stride in the match. He swept through the second and third sets, as Kukushkin proved unable to maintain the high standard he produced in the early stages.

The fourth was a similar story, with Kukushkin in the fifth game stumbling into the awnings behind the baseline, seemingly punch-drunk after being hit with one too many punishing shots.

The end was swift in coming, Nadal through to tackle Nick Kyrgios or Jiri Vesely next, with the youngsters hauled off Court 17 after just six completed games of their opening set, as driving rain fell everywhere but under the roof on Centre.

Nadal will play Nick Kyrgios, who has been one of the stories of the Championships, the 19-year-old Australian backing up his stunning five-set win over Richard Gasquet by defeating fellow young gun Jiri Vesely.

Kyrgios, who will now break into the top 100, had saved nine match points against Gasquet but he did not need similar heroics this time, winning 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-2.

Seven-time champion Roger Federer needed just 81 minutes to breeze through to the fourth-round with a 6-3 6-1 6-3 victory against Colombia's Santiago Giraldo.

Federer will play Tommy Robredo, who held his nerve in the dying light after letting a two-set lead slip against Jerzy Janowicz, winning 6-2 6-4 6-7 (5/7) 4-6 6-3.

Janowicz will plummet outside the top 40 after failing to back up his semi-final appearance from 12 months ago.

Eighth seed Milos Raonic is through to the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time and without dropping a set after a 7-6 (7/2) 7-6 (7/4) 6-2 win over last year's quarter-finalist Lukasz Kubot.

Raonic will have to wait to find out his opponent after Kei Nishikori and Simone Bolelli ran out of light at 3-3 in the fifth set of their third-round match.

The clashes between fifth seed Stanislas Wawrinka and Denis Istomin and John Isner and Feliciano Lopez were postponed and will be played on Monday.