Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic also eased into the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 defeat of American Steve Johnson.
While a Nadal-Federer final looms, Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro could ruin the script, as he did at the U.S. Open where he defeated Federer in the quarter-finals when a semi-final between the two greats looked likely.
The Croat did maintain his own flawless set record on Friday after beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-3, 6-4, and he'll be looking to add another Spanish conquest to his record when he faces Nadal in Shanghai on Saturday.
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Dimitrov sensed another opportunity in the fifth game of the third set, but Nadal survived the break point. It was another solid performance from him today, firing 10 aces and saving 3 out of 4 break points to limit the damage in his games.
In the quarterfinals, Nadal will meet the iron with the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
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World number five Cilic secured his place in the semi-finals with a routine victory over Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
The 36-year-old broke the world number 41 in the first game before saving a break point in the tenth to seal the opening set 6-4.
The one positive for Cilic, however, is that sole victory happened to be a 6-1, 6-3 trouncing in Beijing, their only previous meeting in Chinese territory, holding some hope for the Croat in Shanghai come Saturday's semi.
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