Nadal needs 3-tiebreaker match to advance

Rafael Nadal wanted to play a lot of tennis at the Western & Southern Open, though maybe not all in one day.

Nadal survived a three-set, three-tiebreaker match against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco on Thursday, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (9) victory that kept him on court for 3 hours, 38 minutes. Then, he played a doubles match that went an hour and 10 minutes, followed by interviews.

How'd he feel?

"Fantastic," he said, smiling broadly.

Feeling good, back in the quarterfinals, along with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The top three players in the men's bracket advanced Thursday. Djokovic beat qualifier Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-3 in a ragged match, improving to 31-0 on hard courts this year and 55-1 overall. Federer knocked off James Blake 6-4, 6-1 in the evening.

Nobody had a day quite like the second-seeded Nadal, who arrived for the Cincinnati-area tournament hoping to get a lot of time on court this week. He missed nearly a month after hurting his left foot at Wimbledon, where he reached the finals and lost to Novak Djokovic.

He got his wish, all at once.

Playing on a sunny, mid-80s afternoon, Nadal blew four match points before finally ending the match. It was only the second best-of-three matches in Nadal's career that featured three tiebreakers.

"I would like to have one hour less than I have, but it's a positive one," said Nadal, now 12-0 against Verdasco.

After taking a few questions, Nadal said politely, "I have to go to rest."

Nadal's next match will be against seventh-seeded Mardy Fish, who beat Richard Gasquet 7-5, 7-5 with far less effort.

"If you want to play someone like Rafa, you hope that he plays a match that's four hours long before you play him," Fish said. "I mean, that's as physical as it gets. It's hot out there, so I'm sure he'll be pretty tired."

Djokovic has played a lot of matches lately, and it showed in his performance on Thursday. He pumped his fist to get the crowd involved near the end.

"It's been very slow, kind of an ugly match to play and watch, so I think we really needed to engage the crowd at the end," Djokovic said. "I've played so many matches, and they've caught up to me. It's OK.

"There are days like this when you don't feel like playing, but I hate losing. That's what makes me motivated on the court."

Federer needed only 54 minutes to beat Blake, breaking his serve four times in the second set. Both players served fast and finished points quickly. Federer improved to 10-1 against the American.

"We were speeding out there today," Federer said. "Against James, it's always a fast-paced match from start to finish. You hope you get on a roll, and he doesn't. In the second set, he didn't play so well."

No. 4 Andy Murray also advanced with a 6-2, 7-5 win over American qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr.

The women's bracket is wide open because of injuries and upsets. Defending champion Kim Clijsters (injuries) and Venus Williams (virus) had to skip the tournament, and Serena Williams dropped out on Wednesday because of a sore big toe after playing her seventh match in eight days.

Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki was upset in her first match of the tournament, and third-seeded Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of an injured hand.

Serena Williams' premature departure cleared the way for Samantha Stosur, who got an extra day of rest and looked refreshed on Thursday, beating fifth-seeded Li Na of China 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. The 10th-seeded Australian was scheduled to face Williams on Wednesday.

"I wasn't complaining that she pulled out," said Stosur, who lost to Williams in the finals at Toronto last week. "I had a pretty easy day, which was nice, considering the week I had before. So I guess that was good for today's match, and hopefully will be good for tomorrow."

Stosur has beaten Li — the French Open champion — three times this season, including in the same round last week at Toronto.

Second-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Petra Martic. Fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-3. Slovkia's Daniela Hantuchova upset eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.

___

Freelance writer Mark Schmetzer in Mason, Ohio, contributed to this report.