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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- A few keys so far to the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne:
Shooting from the hip: David Nalbandian rose to the occasion and gave Rafael Nadal all he could handle in the first set of their third-round match. But that 66-minute effort clearly drained the scrappy Argentine in his ninth match back following hip surgery that idled him for most of last season. Despite being made to sweat profusely, Nadal said he's glad to see his pal back on the circuit. "When he's playing at his best level, he makes you feel like you are nothing in the middle of the court, no?'' said Nadal, who is now 2-2 in his career against Nalbandian. Will Nalbandian ever regain the form that made him such a tough out even for the likes of Roger Federer? That will take time and schedule management. Nalbandian will enter a full slate of clay-court events this spring, using wild cards or his protected ranking. But if he goes deep in any of them, he may have to forgo playing the following week; doctors have advised him not to play too many matches too many weeks in a row, especially on a surface where sliding could put more strain on the repairs to his right hip. That message was reinforced by a couple of minor injuries Nalbandian has suffered already this season. He told Spanish-speaking reporters this is the first tournament he's played pain-free since his return in an event in Buenos Aires last month.
Lightheaded, but no lightweight: World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki didn't ask for the numbers when she had her blood pressure taken on court during the first set of her match against Russia's Maria Kirilenko on Sunday. All the Dane knows is that the reading was low, and she was feeling dizzy. Wozniacki was a finalist at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and that run, cross-country travel, and a shift from dry to humid weather conditions (which is just as tough as a change of surfaces in some ways) all may have caught up to her in the form of a viral illness. Wozniacki downed Tylenol and Advil, got a rubdown with ice and rallied to win the match. She later told reporters she never considered retiring. It was a great show of spirit by the U.S. Open finalist, and a pleasantly different storyline from the controversial incident last fall at a tournament in Luxembourg, when her father/coach Piotr urged her to retire because of an injury even though she was on the verge of winning the first-round match. In an on-court consultation Sunday, Wozniacki said her father told her, "Relax. You have nothing to lose. To me you're still a champion still playing here, I mean, after two hours and something and not feeling great. I mean, doesn't matter what happens. Just try your best.''
Not a mirror image: Lumping Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic together because of their early exits in the two U.S. Masters 1000 events would be wrong. Djokovic came into Indian Wells after having played far more matches than Murray in the Federer-and-Nadal-free stretch after the Australian Open, going deep in Rotterdam, winning Dubai and prevailing in both his Davis Cup singles matches at home. As Davis Cup veteran Andy Roddick noted, "Putting two on the board when people expect you to put two on the board, it's a stressful thing. To parlay that into two big tournaments is a big ask.'' Murray is in a different, and less encouraging, head space that seems to mystify even him. "I need to get my mind right; I need to focus again,'' he said.
Blame it on Rio: Up-and-comer Thomaz Bellucci's second Masters 1000 event as a seeded player is already far more strenuous and successful than his first. The 22-year-old Brazilian advanced to the third round at Indian Wells without playing a point via his first-round bye and a walkover, then lost. He had to work harder here in Miami, knocking off James Blake and the always-pesky Olivier Rochus in the second and third rounds, respectively. The free-swinging Bellucci has never played his next opponent, Spain's Nicolas Almagro, and Roddick, who beat him in straight sets at the Australian Open, looms in the quarterfinals. Bellucci, who's sitting at No. 32 after hitting a career-high No. 28 earlier this season, is the most successful player from his country since the iconic Gustavo Kuerten. Bellucci's ascent began in earnest during the 2008 season when he won 17 straight matches (and three titles) in lower-level Challenger events on three different continents.
Biggest loser equals big winner: You have to give Murray-killer Mardy Fish, who lost somewhere between 25 and 30 pounds in a concerted effort following knee surgery last fall, a great chance against Spanish lefty Feliciano Lopez on Monday. Fish beat the two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year on grass at the Queens Club when he was still wearing size 36 jeans. His waist is a svelte 32 inches now.
Beat the clock: Both Roddick (55 minutes) and Kim Clijsters (50 minutes) won their matches Sunday in considerably less time than it took for Nalbandian to win the first set against Nadal. Clijsters seems to have made a course correction after letdowns at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, dropping just three games in two matches.
Next weekend's Final Four picks: Federer versus Roddick, and Venus Williams versus Justine Henin.
Parting shot: Kudos to Fernando Gonzalez, Roddick, Jim Courier, Kuerten and Sony Ericsson tournament officials for pulling together next Saturday's "Champions for Chile" exhibition to raise money for earthquake relief. Just wondering if the players are going to be miked.