MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal overcame the much-hyped potential star of Australian tennis in his quest for a fourth consecutive major title.
Despite a mostly parochial crowd of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena, the top-ranked Nadal secured a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 win over 18-year-old wildcard Bernard Tomic at the Australian Open on Saturday. Nadal advanced to a fourth-round match against Marin Cilic.
A title at Melbourne Park would make the Spanish star the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam trophies at once, although Laver achieved the true Grand Slam by winning all four in a calendar year.
“I think I started playing well, but he’s the kind of player who can make you play bad,” Nadal said. “I have to play a bit better if I want to get to the quarterfinals.”
French Open finalist Sam Stosur lost 7-6 (5), 6-3 to No. 25 Petra Kvitova, ending Australia’s hopes in the women’s draw.
For Nadal, it wasn’t always easy. He trailed 4-0 in the second set before giving Tomic a clinic in comeback tennis. At 5-5, he broke Tomic’s serve, then held in the next game to win the set.
“I thought it was over at 4-love and that’s when he came back,” Tomic said. “You can’t afford to lose concentration. Physically-wise, he is a machine, he wears you down.”
He said Nadal gave him some words of encouragement at the end of the match.
“He said ‘You are a very good player, keep working hard for the future,'” Tomic said.
Tomic upset Feliciano Lopez in the second round and is being touted as a replacement for Lleyton Hewitt in the lean tennis fortunes Down Under. He tried his best, but ultimately was no match for the polished and experienced Nadal.
In other results, No. 4 Robin Soderling advanced along with Marin Cilic, who beat American John Isner 4-6, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 9-7 in 4 hours, 33 minutes.
It was the first five-set match Isner had played since his epic encounter against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon, which finished 70-68 in the fifth for the longest tennis match in history.
Isner’s departure left Andy Roddick as the only American in the men’s or women’s draws.
U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters defeated Alize Cornet 7-6 (3), 6-3 of France to move another step closer to claiming her second Grand Slam in a row.
Also Saturday, Andy Murray cruised past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Murray, the 2010 finalist, hit a high lob to the back of the court. He watched as Garcia-Lopez ran it down and, facing the back of the court, hit a between-the-legs shot that passed Murray for a winner.
“It was the first time someone passed me on a through-the-legs shot on the tour,” Murray said. “It was a very close one on the line.”
Instead of marveling too long at the rare tennis shot – Roger Federer had similar crosscourt winner against Novak Djokovic at the 2009 U.S. Open – Murray broke the Spanish player’s serve.
Garcia-Lopez might have had the most flamboyant shot of the match, but Murray had more of the most effective ones, putting him closer to his second straight Australian Open final.
“The first game doesn’t always dictate the way the match is going to go, but it definitely helped today,” said Murray, who lost the 2010 final to Federer. He’s only dropped 17 games through three rounds.
On her 21st birthday, Cornet provided a tougher challenge for Clijsters, who had only conceded four games in her first two rounds. The French player was presented with a birthday bouquet of flowers after the match.
“It was tough. She’s a tricky player,” Clijsters said. “During the match I felt like I was playing two different persons. I had to constantly move my feet, and work harder.”
Cornet had trouble enough playing one.
“She plays great … she’s always fighting from the first point until the end, and she’s very consistent, very powerful,” Cornet said. “For me, she’s just the favorite of the tournament.”
Second-seeded Vera Zvonareva is aiming for a third consecutive Grand Slam final, advancing with a 6-3, 7-6 (9) win over Lucie Safarova.
Zvonareva, who lost the U.S. Open final to Clijsters, served for the match twice against Safarova but was extended to the tiebreaker. Safarova led 4-2 and 5-3 in the tiebreaker before Zvonareva finally clinched it on her fourth match point.
Zvonareva has a chance to move into the No. 1 ranking if she wins the title. Her next priority is getting past a fourth-round match against Iveta Benesova, who beat No. 16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.
No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Simona Halep 6-1, 6-2 and will play China’s Peng Shuai, who had a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Japan’s Ayumi Morita. Peng, who saved seven break points in the seventh game of the deciding set, will make her first appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam.
No. 10 Shahar Peer was ousted, losing 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 to No. 22 Flavia Pennetta.
Two former finalists also went out. Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 runnerup, retired from his third-round match because of a finger injury when he was trailing No. 11 Jurgen Melzer 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-1, 4-3.
“I don’t think it’s broken because I could push the ball, but whenever I hit it, it felt like electricity on the joint,” said the 25-year-old Baghdatis.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist, lost 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Milos Raonic, a 20-year-old Canadian qualifier with the fastest serve in the first two rounds of the tournament at 143 mph, fired 31 aces while beating No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
He’ll play No. 7 David Ferrer, a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 winner over Richard Berankis.
Soderling defeated Jan Hernych 6-3, 6-1, 6-4. He’ll plays Dolgopolov, hasn’t dropped a set and is on an eight-match winning streak.
Soderling’s match was delayed for about 10 minutes in the third set when a bubble seemed to appear on the court surface at Hisense Arena. A similar bubble delayed the start of a match on the same court the previous night.
Tournament organizers said moisture from recent rains had gathered under the court’s Plexicushion layer in the unseasonably cool conditions and evaporated as temperatures rose, causing a pocket of vapor that lifted part of the surface. Stadium staff repaired the problem quickly both times.
There was some heated moments in men’s doubles, with match officials stepping in to calm an exchange at the net.
Spain’s Feliciano Lopez accused India’s Leander Paes of trying to provoke him and his partner Juan Monaco of Argentina during their second-round match. Paes and partner Mahesh Bhupathi won 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Television footage showed the four players arguing at the net, and Lopez claimed Paes tried “to provoke us all the time.”