World no. 3 and three-time Madrid champion Roger Federer reached the quarter-final in Caja Magica a year ago after a thrilling 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 triumph over Gael Monfils in two hours, erasing two match points in the 12th game of the deciding set.
It was the 376th Masters 1000 win for Roger and the tenth in 14 clashes against Gael, overcoming a slow start of the decider and standing strong on those match points to cross the finish line first in what was his first ATP tournament on clay since Rome 2016.
Roger grabbed almost 20 points more than his rival but still walked on the edge of defeat in the decisive moments, doing everything right in the opening set and working much harder in the remaining two sets to move over the top.
The Swiss delivered 33 winners and 25 unforced errors, dominating in the shortest and mid-range rallies to forge the victory and set another entertaining clash against Dominic Thiem. Federer produced fury in the opening set, losing nine points in total and fending off both break points to keep the pressure on the other side of the net.
Gael never looked like a dangerous rival in those moments, taking five points on serve and finding himself 6-0 down after humiliating 18 minutes. Roger broke in the first game when Gael hit a backhand long, repelling those two break chances in the next game to confirm the break and cement the lead.
The Swiss broke at 15 to forge a 3-0 advantage after a volley error from the Frenchman, moving 4-0 up with a service winner and scoring the third straight break after a backhand error from Gael who probably wanted to run far away from the court, with nothing to fire up his shots or give him the edge in the exchanges.
Serving for the set, the Swiss landed three service winners for a 6-0, looking good to seal the deal in no time and advance into the next round. Out of sudden, Monfils found his range at the beginning of the second set, producing a much-needed hold in the first game and breaking Roger at 15 with a forehand winner to move ahead for the first time.
Federer broke back in game seven after a double fault from the Frenchman and had another break opportunity at 4-4 that could have secured the triumph for him. Keeping his focus on a high level, Monfils erased it with a volley winner, making another push on the return in game ten when he grabbed a crucial break for a 6-4 after a loose forehand from the Swiss.
Carried by this momentum, Gael broke in the second game of the decider, saving a break point in the next game to race into a 3-0 lead and increasing his chances of toppling a great rival and earning another notable win of the season.
Roger presented some of his old magic to pull the break back with a backhand slice return winner, creating another break point at 5-5. Gael saved it and brought the game home with two excellent points, staying ahead and sending the pressure back to the other side.
Federer felt it big time, saving two match points with well-constructed attacks to send the encounter into a deciding tie break that he won 7-2 after a service winner, sealing the deal and securing the place in the quarters.