Nadal Moves Toward Another Grand Slam Win
If Rafael Nadal is getting nervous as he eases closer to winning his fourth consecutive Grand Slam, he sure isn't showing it.
After his 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 win Thursday over American qualifier Ryan Sweeting, the Spanish star appeared as comfortable talking about his next match — against 18-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic — as he was in beating Sweeting so convincingly.
"Practice a little bit tomorrow, rest in the hotel, maybe going to the aquarium — I go every year. Nothing different," Nadal said, when asked about his preparations for Saturday's match.
Shrugging his shoulders and smiling, he added: "If I start getting nervous two days before a match, I have a big problem."
Nadal hasn't had any real problems in recent Grand Slams — Thursday's win was his 23rd in a row in majors going back to the first round of the French Open last year. Since then, he's carted back to his home in Majorca trophies from Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
A fourth from the Australian Open — the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup that he won in 2009 — would make him the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles at once.
He's off to an impressive start at Melbourne Park, conceding only four games in two matches, although his opener against Marcos Daniel was cut short when the Brazilian had to retire with a knee injury trailing 6-0, 5-0.
Nadal seems so relaxed that he even played the comedian. Asked how he thought Tomic should approach the match, those muscular shoulders shrugged again and, to laughter, he replied: "Play very, very bad please. ... That's what I'd tell him."
The other player looking as impressive as Nadal this week is U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, who is fast becoming a favorite for the women's title in the absence of defending champion Serena Williams with a foot injury.
Clijsters dumped former No. 1-ranked Dinara Safina out of the tournament in the first round, 6-0, 6-0. On Thursday, she beat Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-1, 6-3.
"I tried to play both sides of the court, tried to be aggressive and dictate the points," Clijsters said. "And it worked."
Her 6-0, 6-1 third-round loss to Nadia Petrova last year was her worst in a major. It's a defeat she claims she doesn't dwell on and doesn't think will influence her preparations for the same stage this weekend, which is just as well. She could meet Petrova in the fourth round.
"I don't think I've ever played a match like that. So it was very easy in a way to also forget about it," Clijsters said.
Second-seeded Vera Zvonareva overcame a shaky start to beat Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 2-6, 6-3, 6-1. Zvonareva was a finalist at the last two Grand Slams, losing to Williams at Wimbledon and Clijsters at the U.S. Open, and started off against Jovanovski like she had no hope of even getting that far at Melbourne Park.
A series of unforced errors gave her opponent an easy first-set win, before Zvonareva kicked into gear in the second. She got an early break and won the deciding set in 30 minutes.
Joining her in the third round from the bottom half of the draw were No. 10 Shahar Peer, who beat Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 6-2, and No. 22 Flavia Pennetta.
Seventh-seeded Jelena Jankovic lost 7-6 (3), 6-3 to China's Peng Shuai, continuing an unimpressive streak of seven losses in eight matches. It was former world No. 1 Jankovic's worst result at a major since the 2009 U.S. Open.
Also, 12th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland beat Petra Martic of Croatia 6-3, 6-4, and 13th-seeded Petrova defeated Australian Alicia Molik 6-4, 6-1.
Fourth-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-1 win over Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, as did fifth-seeded Andy Murray, who lost in the finals to Roger Federer last year. Murray used 16 aces to beat Illya Marchenko of Ukraine 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.
"A lot of close games," Murray said. "I hit the ball almost better in the tight situations. I'm going to have to get better if I want to do what I did last year."
In the last match of the night, 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis advanced with a 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who called the trainer on three straight changes of ends in the second set to have his problem right wrist treated. Del Potro played only three tournaments last year due to the wrist injury.
Argentina's David Nalbandian, who beat former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in a five-set, first-round match on Tuesday, retired from his second-round match against Richard Berankis of Lithuania due to exhaustion. Berankis was leading 6-1, 6-0, 2-0.
Asked whether Hewitt's match had affected him, Nalbandian replied, "A lot."
"It was everything, nothing specific," he said. "I toss a ball for the serve and everything was moving around. I called the doctor and he told me that it was dangerous playing like that."
Other seeded players advancing in the men's draw were No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 15 Marin Cilic and No. 32 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Tomic, the last Australian male left in the draw, advanced with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over No. 31 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, while Canada's Milos Raonic also produced a second-round upset, beating No. 22 Michael Llodra of France 7-6 (3), 6-3, 7-6 (4).
Tomic will now play the biggest match of his young career, likely at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night before 15,000 fans who will be mostly in his corner
"A lot of things are going to be flying through my head, but I dream that it happens once, and hopefully there's a lot more in my career," said Tomic. "I'll sort of put my brain aside ... just relax and play tennis."