Rafael Nadal overcame the much-hyped potential future 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 had a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 win over 18-year-old wild card Bernard Tomic in an Australian Open third-round match 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 of Tomic. "I have to play a bit better if I want to get to the quarterfinals."
It wasn't always easy — Nadal 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.
Tomic, who upset Fernando Lopez in the second round and is being touted as a replacement for Lleyton Hewitt in the lean tennis fortunes Down Under, tried his best but ultimately was no match for the polished and experienced Nadal.
Earlier Saturday, it was the first game of Andy Murray's match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and the 2010 finalist was doing his best to get into the feel of the third-round match.
Hitting 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 one of the more unusual shots in tennis — like Roger Federer's similar crosscourt winner against Novak Djokovic at the 2009 U.S. Open — Murray broke the Spanish player's serve and went on to beat Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
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.
In other men's results, No. 4 Robin Soderling advanced, as did Marin Cilic, who beat American John Isner in five sets.
U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, meanwhile, beat Alize Cornet 7-6 (3), 6-3 of France, getting closer to win her second Grand Slam in a row.
Cornet, trying to celebrate her 21st birthday, 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, a small consolation for losing to one of the tournament favorites.
"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 kept alive her bid for a third consecutive Grand Slam final 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 sealed it on her fourth match point.
Zvonareva has a chance to move into the No. 1 ranking her by winning the title. Her priority now is getting past a fourth-round match against Iveta Benesova, who beat No. 16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.
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.
No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska beat Simona Halep 6-1, 6-2 and will next 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.
Cilic had a 4-6, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 9-7 win over No. 20 Isner in 4 hours, 33 minutes. It was the first five-set match Isner had played since his epic encounter against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon last year which finished 70-68 in the fifth and was the longest tennis match in history measured by games and elapsed time.
Isner's departure left Andy Roddick as the only American in the men's or women's draws.
Two former finalists also went out. Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 runnerup, retired from his third-round match due to 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.
"I knew the chances were in his favor, but I knew I was prepared to fight for every point, however long it took," said Raonic, who was born in Montenegro and moved to Canada in 1994. "I can't say I would be shocked if I wasn't here. But I'm not really shocked I am here."
He'll play No. 7 David Ferrer, a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 winner over Richard Berankis, in the next round.
Soderling, who beat Jan Hernych 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 and next plays Dolgopolov, hasn't dropped a set and is on an eight-match winning streak with his three at Melbourne Park after winning the tuneup tournament at Brisbane.
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 a heated 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 all four players arguing at the net, and Lopez claimed Paes had tried "to provoke us all the time."
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