Men’s top 16 in Grand Slam third round for the first time in Open era

NEW YORK: After sweating through a match that was more difficult than expected, Rafael Nadal finally broke through on Friday to book his place in the third round of the U.S. Open.

Clinching a marathon third-set game that gave him a break, he hit his winner, pumped his fist three times and shouted “Vamos!” An hour later he had beaten Nicolas Kiefer 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 and completed a clean sweep for the top 16 players at the U.S. Open.

They are 32-0 through two rounds, the first time that’s happened in the 41-year history of Open-era Grand Slam tennis.

Good practice

“A very good practice for me, no?” Nadal said. “To play in three hours is a very good test. At the same time, it’s important. The first day, I didn’t have any bad moment, any pressure moment. Today, I had to do more.”

The first set took only 24 minutes. But Kiefer, the 129th-ranked player and the U.S. Open boys’ champion back in 1995, won the second and matched Nadal game for game deep into the third. Nadal finally got his break to make it 5-3, which brought on his celebration.

While Nadal welcomed a tougher test as he makes his way back from knee tendinitis that forced him to skip Wimbledon, the display raised questions about whether the Spaniard can win the title here.

“He was getting a little bit tired,” Kiefer said. “I could see it, I could feel it. He didn’t move so good. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t count if you play good or bad. A win is a win, a loss is a loss.”

Nadal and No. 2 Andy Murray, who defeated Paul Capdeville of Chile 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2, are the only two players in the top 10 to have dropped a set over their first two rounds at Flushing Meadows.

Pattern of dominance

It extended a recent pattern of dominance by the top players in men’s tennis, which has taken on an air of predictability that women’s tennis was once derided for but had largely overcome.

“The best players are winning and they don’t have any strange losses,” Nadal said. “That’s good for tennis.”

At the Montreal Masters in August, the men ranked Nos. 1-8 filled the eight quarterfinal berths — the first time that’s happened at an ATP tournament since rankings were introduced in 1973. The next week, at the Cincinnati Masters, the top four men made the semifinals.

“There is a gap,” said Austria’s Jurgen Melzer, who lost to No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-3.

Capdeville sees it, too. “I can say that there are moments when you start thinking that the other guy is so clearly superior to you,” he said.

French pair Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon were other top-10 seeded players to progress on Friday in straight sets. The only minor upsets were down the ranking sheets, as Spain’s David Ferrer was ousted in five sets by Argentina’s Jose Acasuso and Serbia’s Viktor Troicki claimed one set but was otherwise roundly beaten by France’s Julien Benneteau.

Clijsters to meet Venus

On the women’s side, the Williams sisters both advanced in straight sets, as did Kim Clijsters, who set up a fourth-round match with No. 3 Venus Williams.

Clijsters took two years off and has played so little tennis since she came back, she’s not even ranked. She looked good on Friday against Belgian compatriot Kirsten Flipkens in a 6-0, 6-2 victory.

Venus, still wearing heavy tape on her left knee, had to work hard for a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova. Serena had a 6-3, 7-5 win over Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and will next face Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.

Vera Zvonareva, seeded seventh, also progressed but No. 8 Victoria Azarenka was a casualty, beaten 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 by Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. — AP

THE RESULTS

Prefix denotes seeding

Men: Singles: Second round: 7-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) bt Jarkko Nieminen (Fin) 7-5, 6-3, 6-4; Julien Benneteau (Fra) bt 30-Viktor Troicki (Srb) 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0; 16-Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Jesse Levine (USA) 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0; 24-Juan Carlos Ferrero (Esp) bt Philipp Petzschner (Ger) 1-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4; 6-Juan Martin del Potro (Arg) bt Jurgen Melzer (Aut) 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-3; 17-Tomas Berdych (Czech) bt Horacio Zeballos (Arg) 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(2), 6-2; 9-Gilles Simon (Fra) bt Thomaz Bellucci (Bra) 6-3, 6-2, 6-4; Daniel Koellerer (Aut) bt Pablo Cuevas (Uru) 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4; 2-Andy Murray (GBR) bt Paul Capdeville (Chi) 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2; Denis Istomin (Uzb) bt Nicolas Lapentti (Ecu) 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4).

32-Nicolas Almagro (Esp) bt Robby Ginepri (USA) 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4; 13-Gael Monfils (Fra) bt Andreas Beck (Ger) 6-3, 7-5, 6-3; 11-Fernando Gonzalez (Chi) bt Josselin Ouanna (Fra) 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4; Jose Acasuso (Arg) bt 18-David Ferrer (Esp) 6-3, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2; Taylor Dent (USA) bt Ivan Navarro (Esp) 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(1), 7-5, 7-6(9); 3-Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Nicolas Kiefer (Ger) 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Women: Third round: 10-Flavia Pennetta (Ita) bt Aleksandra Wozniak (Can) 6-1, 6-1; 22-Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) bt Vania King (USA) 6-2, 6-2; 2-Serena Williams (USA) bt Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (Esp) 6-3, 7-5; 26-Francesca Schiavone (Ita) bt 8-Victoria Azarenka (Blr) 4-6, 6-2, 6-2; 7-Vera Zvonareva (Rus) bt 31-Elena Vesnina (Rus) 6-2, 6-4; 18-Li Na (Chn) bt Maria Kirilenko (Rus) 6-4, 6-2; Kim Clijsters (Bel) bt Kirsten Flipkens (Bel) 6-0, 6-2; 3-Venus Williams (USA) bt Magdalena Rybarikova (Svk) 6-2, 7-5.

Women: Doubles: Second round: Gisela Dulko (Arg) & Shahar Peer (Isr) bt 14-Sania Mirza (Ind) & Francesca Schiavone (Ita) 6-2, 1-6, 7-5.

Mixed doubles: First round: 1-Liezel Huber (USA) & Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) bt Vania King (USA) & Marcelo Melo (Bra) 7-5, 6-0.

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