Blake easily moves into third round of Australian Open

Jan 18, 2007 - 4:13 PM MELBOURNE, Australia (Ticker) -- James Blake continues to easily roll along in the early weeks of the 2007 tennis season.

The fifth-seeded Blake needed just 1 hour, 22 minutes to advance to the third round of the Australian Open with Thursday's 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory over fellow American Alex Kuznetsov.

A five-time winner on the ATP Tour last year, the 27-year-old Blake reached the third round here for the second consective campaign. He was ousted by Spain's Tommy Robredo in straight sets in 2006.

"It's a little tricky because if you face a real young guy, being a No. 5 seed in a Grand Slam, you like to think that they might be a little nervous or tight," Blake said. "But I know Alex, he's practiced with me tons of times. ... He knows the pace. He knows how well I can move. He knows kind of the things I can do."

After defeating Carlos Moya to win the championship at Sydney on Saturday, Blake was a straight-sets victor over the Spaniard in their rematch in the first round on Tuesday.

Blake quickly asserted himself in his first encounter with the 19-year-old Kuznetsov, the world No. 216 who was making just his second appearance in a major championship.

"It was good," Blake said. "A little bit of a slow start, but Alex played well at the beginning. Alex played great. He was cracking returns. I wasn't making first serves, and he served well most of the day, just kind of in spots."

Blake's next opponent will be American Robby Ginepri, who topped Germany's Mischa Zverev, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. The two Americans have split their four previous meetings, with Blake taking last year's showdown on grass in the round of 16 at the Queen's Club in London.

A win over Ginepri likely would pit Blake in a quarterfinals match against second-seeded Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who rolled past unseeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

"It is very important to win when you're not playing your best, because that's a good point," Nadal said. "That gave me very good confidence. But I am happy with my game today."

Nadal, who missed this event last season with a foot injury, withdrew from last week's Medibank International with a groin injury, leaving his status for this season's opening Grand Slam in doubt.

But the flashy Spaniard appears to have recovered.

"I feel better," he said. "Maybe this is the first match in the year when I feel better. I felt good in some moments, so that's very important. I am trying every day to get to 100 percent. But I am fine, improving every day."

No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia joined Blake and Nadal in the third round after cruising past Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, 6-4, 6-0, 6-3.

Eighth-seeded Argentinian David Nalbandian played consistently to defeat Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. His next foe, Sebastien Grosjean of France, persevered through a four-hour marathon against Olivier Rochus of Belarus, winning 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile survived a scare from rising Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who retired with cramps late in the fifth set after falling behind, 0-4.

"It was a tough day," Gonzalez said. "I mean, I didn't play my best tennis, but the other guy was serving really good, was returning really well, too. My serve didn't work in the first three sets."

Thirteenth-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic advanced with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Australian Robert Smeets and will meet No. 21 Dmitry Tursunov of Russia, who topped Max Mirnyi of Belarus, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).

A heavy crowd favorite, Smeets was impressed with Berdych's aggressiveness.

"He kept great depth of the ball, which I certainly didn't," Smeets said. "I felt like I was always defending, he was always attacking. Every time I tried to attack, I felt like I was out of position, too deep into the court."

No. 15 Andy Murray of Britain posted a 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-4 victory over Spain's Fernando Verdasco. He will try to avoid becoming another upset victim of Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela, who ousted No. 17 Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

"I was happy to have won in three sets," Murray said. "If it had to go longer, then I was willing to stay out there. But it was tough conditions today, because after the first set the court started to warm up and it kind of burned your feet, and your legs start to get a little more tired."

Murray, who visibly struggled with the conditions in the first set, said he knew he would be in for a tough day against the athletic Verdasco.

"He's a really, really tricky guy to play against," Murray said. "You know, he's beaten a lot of top players, and you can see why. He's got a really good first serve, obviously lefty makes it tougher. He's got really sort of an unpredictable forehand. His backhand is really solid."

Local favorite Lleyton Hewitt, the 19th seed and 2005 runner-up, needed four sets to beat Canada's Frank Dancevic, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. The Australian has not won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2002.

"You can't win the tournament in the first couple matches," said Hewitt, who has been nursing a calf injury which forced him to withdraw from the Medibank International. "You got to find ways to win. When you're a little under-done, sometimes there are tougher matches to get through, and they're most important ones to get through."

Hewitt admitted that he has played at a disadvantage in the first two rounds against Dancevic and first-round foe Michael Russell, both heavy underdogs.

"These guys have nothing to lose against me," Hewitt said. "Russell played an exceptional match the other night, especially for two-and-a-half sets. This guy today was flashy. (He) Doesn't give you a lot of cheap points out there either. ... It's good to get two wins."

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