Nadal wins thriller; Blake falls out

Melbourne, January 22:

Rafael Nadal battled through a five-set firestorm to book a quarter-final berth at the Australian Open as Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters set up an enticing clash.

Top seed Maria Sharapova also marched on, outmuscling fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva 7-5, 6-4 to set up a match with another compatriot, 12th seed Anna Chakvetadze, who undid eighth seed Patty Schnyder 6-4, 6-1.

But fifth seed James Blake suffered his first loss of the season and crashed in straight sets to Chilean tenth seed Fernando Gonzalez, who now meets the Nadal for a spot in the semis. Germany’s 12th seed Tommy Haas tamed eighth seeded Argentine David Nalbandian and will face third-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters.

Spain’s Nadal was pushed to the limit by 15th seed Andy Murray, trading the first four engrossing sets before the Briton crumbled in the decider, going down 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in close to four hours.

Hingis, seeded six, needed all her big-match experience to overhaul 19th seed Li Na 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, coming back to dismantle the Chinese woman’s game and secure a quarter-final appearance here for a ninth time.

She will play Clijsters, who beat her at the same stage last year, ending the Swiss star’s Grand Slam comeback after a three-year injury hiatus.

Clijsters has been in scintillating form and was clinical against Slovak pin-up Daniela Hantuchova, powering through 6-1, 7-5, and is looking forward to pitting her wits against one of her best friends on tour.

Top seed Sharapova displayed lapses of concentration against Zvonareva and acknowledged she needed to improve against Chakvetadze, who won the lead-up Hobart International tournament.

With defending champion Roger Federer safely into the quarter-finals, Haas, Gonzalez, Davydenko and Nadal joined him on Monday. Gonzalez upset Blake 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) while Haas wore down Nalbandian, a semi-finalist last year, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Davydenko, who has been anonymous working his way to the last eight, qualified for his third straight Australian Open quarter-final with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) win over Czech 13th seed Tomas Berdych.