Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Nalbandian, Blake leave way open for Federer

AFP , LONDON

China's Li Na, right, shakes hands with Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova after defeating her in their third-round match at Wimbledon on Friday. Li became the first Chinese player to reach the final 16 at Wimbledon with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Kuznetsova.

PHOTO: AP

Roger Federer was left with a clear run to a fourth successive Wimbledon final on Friday when dangermen David Nalbandian and James Blake both crashed out in the third round.

Argentinian fourth seed Nalbandian, one of just four men to have beaten Federer since the start of last year, was dismissed by Spanish 28th seed Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (11/9), 7-6 (11/9), 6-2.

Blake, the eighth-seeded American, lost a grueling five-setter to Belarussian giant Max Mirnyi 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.

In the women's event, 1997 champion Martina Hingis saw her dreams of a second title ended by Japanese veteran Ai Sugiyama, who won their third-round clash 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Russian fifth seed and a former US Open champion, was also packing her bags as Li Na became the first Chinese woman to make the fourth round with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win.

Federer, the triple champion and world No. 1, took full advantage of his rivals' slip-ups by clinching his 45th consecutive grass court win with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 victory over France's Nicolas Mahut.

He will now face the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych for a place in the quarter-finals.

Nalbandian, the 2002 runner-up, paid a heavy price for demanding that his match be scheduled as early as possible to allow him time to watch Argentina face Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals.

"I had never played a match before on the same day as a World Cup game, but the organizers were OK about it," Nalbandian said.

Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 champion, reached the third round after edging a marathon five-setter against South Korea's Lee Hyung-taik.

The sixth-seed Australian broke Lee's service in the tenth game of the fifth set to clinch a 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 victory in a match that had been interrupted on Thursday night at the end of the fourth set.

In total, the Australian was on court for five minutes short of four hours -- far from ideal preparation for yesterday's third round meeting with Belgian Olivier Rochus.

"Survival, that's all it really was out there. I was frustrated that I didn't close it out on Thursday, but he's a hell of a shotmaker," Hewitt said.

In the other third round match held over from Thursday, Britain's Andy Murray saw off France's Julien Benneteau 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 to set up a fourth round clash against Andy Roddick.

Hingis, playing here for the first time since 2001, squandered a 3-0 lead in the final set against Sugiyama who now faces France's Severine Bremond for a place in the quarter-finals.

"Even though I was 3-0 ahead they were very draining games," Hingis said.

"She's a very good player. She likes the flat balls, she's a tough cookie. But in the past, losses have made me stronger," she said.

Li, the 27th seed, will face 10th seeded Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic for a quarter-final spot, but China was unable to celebrate a second woman in the fourth round when Belgian second seed Kim Clijsters beat Zheng Jie 6-3, 6-2.

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