The French Open champion, who now faces the prospect of playing every day this week if he is to repeat last year’s run to the final, finally broke the Swedish number one’s dogged resistance with a break in the 12th game of the fifth set to go through, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (7/9), 4-6, 7-5.
Nadal will be confident of overcoming his next opponent, Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, but his chances of dethroning Roger Federer may have been fatally compromised by the physical and mental hangover from this profoundly frustrating encounter.
The Spaniard may pay a high price for his failure to finish off Söderling on Monday afternoon, when he missed a straightforward forehand on match point in the third set tiebreak.
That typified an uncharacteristically erratic performance from the 21-year-old, who handed his opponent no fewer than 15 break points on his serve and allowed his unforced error tally to reach 40 in just over four hours on court.
Resuming at 4-4 in the fifth on Wednesday, Nadal failed to capitalize on four more match points before Söderling finally handed him victory by missing an overhead smash then overcooking a forehand.
Nadal had begun his attempt to reach the last 16 on Saturday evening but he had scarcely begun his warm-up when a downpour forced play to be abandoned for the evening.
After three rain breaks on Monday, Tuesday was to prove even more frustrating with the players managing just two brief spells on court in between torrential downpours.
And the frustration appeared to have an impact on Nadal’s composure with the Spaniard clearly irritated by some of his opponent’s on-court antics, which included a mocking imitation of the world number two’s habit of picking at his pirate pants as part of his pre-service routine.