Nadal beats Blake to reach quarters

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

Nadal, the top seed here in Beijing, and the 29-year 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, Nadal broke Blake at love to go up 3-2, but the relentless American refused to give up, fighting off a match point and clawing back to 5-5. Nadal quickly broke him again to go up 6-5, but Blake, the world No 24, again showed his mettle, to break the Spaniard and force a tiebreak, which Blake won in spectacular fashion. In the third, 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.

In the quarterfinals, Nadal — who won the China Open in 2005 — will face Russia’s Marat Safin, a crowd favourite and 2004 champion here, who upset Chilean seventh seed Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. In other second round matches, Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic needed three sets to defeat Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot, who ousted defending champion Andy Roddick on Tuesday.

On the women’s side, 14th seed Marion Bartoli of France breezed past Chinese wild card Zhang Shuai, who had ousted top seed Dinara Safina earlier in the week. Polish 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska beat Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.