Rafa Nadal moved another step closer to regaining the top spot in the world rankings from Novak Djokovic by coming through a tough tussle with Philipp Kohlschreiber in the China Open yesterday.
The 13-times grand slam champion beat the German 6-4, 7-6(3) on the hard courts at the National Tennis Centre in Beijing to set up a quarter-final against Fabio Fognini of Italy.
Nadal needs to reach the final of the $2,315,250 tournament to take back the top ranking from Djokovic, who has finished the last two years as world No 1.
The Spaniard has won ten titles this year, including the French and US Opens, after coming back from his latest spell on the sidelines to allow his troubled knees time to recover. He is now aiming to extend that brilliant run in Asia.
The 27-year-old traded breaks with Kohlschreiber early in the opening set yesterday before securing another in the tenth game when the German hit a forehand long.
The second set went with serve until a tiebreak, which Nadal won 7-3 to rack up his 19th consecutive win since losing in the first round of Wimbledon to Belgian Steve Darcis.
“Today the serve, in my opinion, helped in the important moments,” Nadal said afterwards. “But it’s true that his level of tennis I think was just brilliant tonight. I won because I played a great match. If not, I would not be here with a victory.”
Fognini booked his last eight spot with a 6-0, 6-2 thrashing of former world No 1 Lleyton Hewitt. Big serving American John Isner prevailed 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4 over Spanish qualifier Roberto Bautista. He will next play Czech world No 5 Tomas Berdych who claimed a walkover over Russian veteran Nikolay Davydenko.
Djokovic takes on Nadal’s compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the second round today.
In the women’s event, home favourite Li Na overcame Germany’s Sabine Lisicki 7-5, 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
The Czech, who won the Japan Open last weekend, overcame Italian fifth seed Sara Errani 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3 in their third round clash at the prestigious $5 million Beijing tournament.
World No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska dispatched promising American Madison Keys 6-3 6-2 and will next face Slovenian wildcard Polona Hercog, who stunned former world No 1 Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-4 in the day’s only upset.
“It was a big challenge for me to go out there on a big court and play against Ana Ivanovic, and I’m just really happy the way it turned out,” Hercog said. “It’s probably one of the biggest victories for me.”
Germany’s Andrea Petkovic provided the upset of the first round when she ousted Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka and the Bosnia-born world No 43 followed that up with a second round win over another grand slam champion yesterday.
Petkovic again needed to go the distance as she beat former French and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
“This is the first tournament that I’ve been able to really keep up my intensity and keep up my focus. I think I’ve played two good matches,” Petkovic said after setting up a clash with Czech Lucie Safarova in the third round. “Personally it’s really important to see that I can still beat the players on the top level, two past grand slam champions. It’s just a big boost for my confidence, no matter what happens now in the future.”
The victories, though, were only warm-up acts for the home fans keen to see their compatriot Li in action.
Li, the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title when she triumphed at the 2011 French Open, had the crowd happy as she scored a break in her 13th seeded opponent’s first service game.
The world No 5 ran into trouble, though, as she attempted to serve out the set as Lizicki broke back to level at 5-5, only for Li to break again and win it 7-5.
Another break came midway through the second set as Li wrapped it up 6-4 despite a match total of seven double faults. That serving issue will need to be resolved if she is to find a way past in-form Kvitova.
World No 1 Serena Williams is back in action today when she takes on Maria Kirilenko in the third round.