nadal subdues big hitter blake

BEIJING - World No 2 Rafael Nadal fended off a tough challenge from hard-hitting American James Blake to advance to the quarterfinals of the China Open yesterday with a 7-5 6-7 (4-7)6-3 win.

BEIJING - World No 2 Rafael Nadal fended off a tough challenge from hard-hitting American James Blake to advance to the quarterfinals of the China Open yesterday with a 7-5 6-7 (4-7)6-3 win.

Nadal, the top seed in Beijing, and the 29-year-old American thrilled the crowd on centre court at the Olympic tennis venue for nearly two-and-a-half hours with their blistering ground strokes and powerful serves.

The pair traded early breaks in the first set and then remained even until 5-5, when Blake surrendered his serve again, giving the 23-year-old Spaniard the opening he needed to close out the set.

In the second set Nadal, who won Olympic gold on the same court last year, broke Blake at love to go up 3-2, but the relentless American refused to give up, fighting off a match point and clawing his way back to 5-5. Nadal quickly broke him again to go up 6-5, but Blake, the world No 24, again showed his mettle, using nifty net play to break the Spaniard and force a tie-break, which Blake won in spectacular fashion.

In the third set Blake missed a golden opportunity to break Nadal at 2-2, when he had the Spaniard at love-40, and he paid for it when he double-faulted to fall behind 5-3. Nadal then served out the match at love.

"It's an important win because James is always a very tough opponent," Nadal said. "He's a really good player. I think he has one of the best returns ... very fast. James played unbelievably in the tiebreak."

Nadal said he was not frustrated when he failed to close out the match in straight sets. "I was playing really well. When I had the chance, Iplayed aggressively. Winning in three sets always gives you extra confidence."

In the quarterfinals, Nadal - who won the China Open in 2005 - will face Russia's Marat Safin, a crowd favourite and 2004 champion, who upset Chilean seventh seed Fernando Gonzalez 6-36-4.

In other second-round matches on the men's side of the mixed WTA and ATP event, Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic needed three sets to defeat Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot, who ousted defending champion Andy Roddick.

On the women's side, Serena Williams was knocked out of the third round by an inspired Nadia Petrova yesterday. Williams, who will retake the number one spot next week, lost 4-6 6-3 6-7 to the Russian 13th seed to join her third-seeded sister Venus and top seed Dinara Safina in exiting the tournament. - Reuters

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