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Nadal digs deep to overcome Murray

Nirmal Shekar

Fernando Gonzalez takes out James Blake; David Nalbandian crashes out



PHEW! Rafael Nadal was severely tested by a free-stroking Andy Murray in their fourth-round clash. — PHOTO: AP

Melbourne: With his gaunt features, shambling walk, four-day-old stubble and twitchy fingers that tug at racquet strings and shirt-sleeves, Andy Murray is unlikely to ever audition for a 007 role.

But, like the most famous Scotsman alive — Sean Connery — Murray is certainly licensed to kill, with a tennis racquet, no less.

At the Australian Open, on Monday, the 19-year old from Dunblane came up with a brand of heroics that Connery and the original Scottish Braveheart — William Wallace — might have approved of.

It is entirely another matter that Rafael Nadal refused to die. Spanish conquistadors know a thing or two about survival, after all.

In a fourth round match of lacerating intensity and nerve-jangling twists and turns — one that began at 10 p.m. on Monday and ended at 1.51 a.m. on Tuesday — Nadal simply refused to accept what appeared to be his fate.

Digging deeper and deeper, the two-time Roland Garros champion came up with the goods when it mattered most to post a 6-7(3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory for a place in the quarterfinals.

For sustained drama, excitement and improbability, this contest rose above anything witnessed so far in the championship. As the tide of the battle shifted back and forth, few would have ventured to pick a winner in the packed Rod Laver arena until early in the fifth set when the No.2 seed took control of the match.

Like a dervish

Darting about the court like a dervish and putting on show his unremitting pace and skills as a competitor, Nadal climbed a mountain to knot up the match in the fourth set before running away with the decider.

But, for three full hours, it did appear that the Scot would pull off a famous coup. Unfazed by the stature of the opponent or the stage, Murray came up with a nerveless display of attacking tennis.

Serving with great confidence and hitting a vicious array of criss-crossing winners off both flanks, the 19-year-old 15th seed was right on top in the first set tiebreak. Then, after losing the second, Murray came back from 1-3 down to claim the third.

Things looked rather bleak for Nadal when he went down 0-40 on serve in the fourth game of the fourth set. But, it was there that the Spaniard's fightback began. He held on, then broke to 4-3 and was soon on his way.

"It was very, very tough. He played at an unbelievable level," said Nadal, who has won his last five five-set matches. "It was an important match for me."

In women's singles, Kim Clijsters, playing her last Australian Open, sailed into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 7-5 defeat of Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.

Clijsters will play her good friend Martina Hingis, seeded six, in the quarterfinals. Hingis got past the talented Chinese woman Na Li 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

In the other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw, Maria Sharapova, seeded No.1, will take on another Russian Anna Chakvetadze.

While Chakvetadze got past the eighth seed, Patty Schnyder 6-4, 6-1, Sharapova, playing the first match of the night session, outhit countrywoman Vera Zvonareva 7-5, 6-4.

In the men's championship, two men seeded in the top eight, James Blake (5) and David Nalbandian (8) were beaten in the fourth round.

Fernando Gonzalez from Chile, seeded 10, served 18 aces and hit more than a dozen other service winners — many of them on key points — to beat Blake 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(4) at the Rod Laver Arena.

The German Tommy Haas too served well for the most part and mixed things up rather well in beating Nalbandian 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. It was his third victory over the Argentine in three meetings.

Unseeded Mahesh Bhupathi and Radek Stephanek continued their impressive march in the men's doubles competition. The Indo-Czech pair beat the seventh seeded Israelis Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3 to make the quarterfinals where they will take on the second seeds, Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi.

But, later in the evening, Bhupathi and Hantuchova, seeded five, went down in the mixed doubles competition to Nenad Zimonjic and Jelena Jankovic. The Serbian pair won 4-6, 7-6(8).

Sania Mirza lost both in the women's doubles and in the mixed doubles. Sania and Annabel Medina Garrigues of Spain went down 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 2-6 to Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama in the women's doubles while Mark Knowles and Rennae Stubbs beat Sania and Fabrice Santoro 7-6(0), 1-6, 10-7 in the mixed doubles event.

In the boys' singles championship, India's Rupesh Roy went down 6-2, 3-6, 3-6 to Kevin Botti of France in the first round.

IMPORTANT RESULTS

Prefix denotes seeding

Men: Fourth round: 12-Tommy Haas (Ger) bt 8-David Nalbandian (Arg) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3; 10-Fernando Gonzalez (Chi) bt 5-James Blake (U.S.) 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (4); 3-Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) bt 13-Tomas Berdych (Cze) 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(5); 2-Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt 15-Andy Murray (Gbr) 6-7 (3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Women:

Fourth round: 6-Martina Hingis (Sui) bt 19-Li Na (Chn) 4-6, 6-3, 6-0; 12-Anna Chakvetadze (Rus) bt 8-Patty Schnyder (Sui) 6-4, 6-1; 4-Kim Clijsters (Bel) bt 15-Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) 6-1, 7-5; 1-Maria Sharapova bt 22-Vera Zvonareva 7-5, 6-4.

Men's doubles:

Third round: Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) & Radek Stepanek (Cze) bt 7-Jonathan Erlich & Andy Ram (Isr) 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.

Women's doubles:

Third round: 6-Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) & Ai Sugiyama (Jpn) bt 10-Sania Mirza (Ind) & Anabel Medina Garrigues (Esp) 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-2.

Mixed doubles:

First round: Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) & Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) lost to Nenad Zimonjic & Jelena Jankovic (Ser) 6-4, 6-7(4), 8-10; Sania Mirza (Ind) & Fabrice Santoro (Fra) lost to 2-Mark Knowles (Bah) & Rennae Stubbs (Aus) 6-7 (0), 6-1, 7-10.

Boys: Singles:

First round: Rupesh Roy (Ind) lost to Kevin Botti (Fra) 6-2, 3-6, 3-6.

Doubles:

First round: 8-Rupesh Roy (Ind) & Stephen Donald (Aus) bt Valentin Dimov (Bul) & Fumiaki Kita (Jpn) 6-2, 6-1.

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