Nadal edges Blake to reach China Open quarters
BEIJING: World number two Rafael Nadal fended off a tough challenge from hard-hitting American James Blake to advance to the quarterfinals of the China Open on Thursday with a 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 win.
Nadal, the top seed here in Beijing, traded early breaks with the 29-year-old American in the first set and then the pair remained on serve until 5-5, delighting the crowd with powerful baseline rallies.
Blake then surrendered his serve again, giving the 23-year-old Spaniard the opening he needed to close out the set.
In the second, Nadal -- who won Olympic gold on this same centre 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 back to 5-5.
Nadal quickly broke him again to go up 6-5, but Blake, the world number 24, again showed his mettle, using nifty net play to break the lefty Spaniard and force a tie-break.
Blake dazzled the crowd with a barrage of blistering ground strokes, taking the breaker on his fourth set point.
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.
Nadal, who won the China Open in 2005, will face either Russia's Marat Safin or Chile's Fernando Gonzalez in the quarterfinals.
In other second round matches on the men's side of the 6.6-million-dollar mixed WTA/ATP event, 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.
Second seed Serena Williams, who will take over the number one ranking from Safina when the new WTA list is issued on Monday, was due on court later Thursday against Russian 13th seed Nadia Petrova.