It was the first game of Andy Murray’s match Friday against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and the 2010 finalist was doing his best to get into the feel of the Australian Open third-round match.
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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, Rafael Nadal didn’t let the much-hyped potential future star of Australian tennis stop him in his quest for a fourth consecutive major title.
Overcoming a mostly parochial crowd of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena, the top-ranked Nadal posted a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 victory over 18-year-old wild card Bernard Tomic and advanced to a fourth-round match against Marin Cilic.
"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 service, then held in the next game to clinch 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.
No. 4 Robin Soderling advanced, as did fifth-seeded Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, who beat American John Isner in five sets.
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.
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 till 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.
Cilic will next play the winner of Saturday’s night match between top-ranked Rafael Nadal and 18-year-old Australian wildcard Bernard Tomic.
In other men’s play, 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France lost 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Raonic, a 20-year-old Canadian qualifier with the fastest serve in the first two rounds of the tournament at 143 mph, fired 32 aces while pushing aside No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny with a 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win.
”I didn’t really count myself out. 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.
Former finalist Marcos Baghdatis retired from his third-round match because of a groin injury.
Baghdatis was trailing 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-1, 4-3 when he went to the net and shook hands with No. 11 seed Jurgen Melzer of Austria. The 21st-seeded Cypriot player pulled out of the Sydney International last week with the same injury.