Murray, Blake ousted; Nadal advances
MELBOURNE, Australia -- The top seeds had been rolling along at the Australian Open, but Fernando Verdasco had something to say about that.
In a five-set marathon on Monday, the 14th seed beat No. 4 Andy Murray 2-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Heading into the fourth-round match, the 21-year-old Murray of Great Britain hadn't lost a set.
Verdasco, a 25-year-old left-hander, used a blistering first serve to advance into the quarterfinals. Murray had built a reputation as a killer when it came to playing left-handed players -- struggling only against Rafael Nadal, but dominating Verdasco in the past.
Tsonga was runner-up last year to Novak Djokovic, while Blake has failed to get past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam in 28 appearances.
Tsonga was unhappy with a delay caused by Australia Day fireworks. Blake broke him right after play resumed, but Tsonga rallied and raced through the tiebreaker.
He said he feels he's improved from last year.
"It's different because I have more experience now," Tsonga said. "I hope I will make the results better."
Murray, who lost in the U.S. Open final last year to Roger Federer and has posted recent wins over Federer and Nadal, said he hasn't been feeling well the past few days, though he refused to use it as an excuse.
"I don't feel that was the reason why I lost," Murray said. "I definitely did have my chances, and he played too well. I'm disappointed that I lost. But I'll try and learn from it. It's not a disaster. I'm still playing well. I lost to a good player in a very close match. I'll have more chances to win Grand Slams."
Verdasco saved two break points in the pivotal sixth game of the fifth set against Murray, firing aces when he needed them and forcing errors from the other side. He broke Murray in the subsequent game.
"The consistency of his first serve was pretty awesome for the last two, three sets," Murray said.
Verdasco was a key player in Spain's Davis Cup final triumph in Argentina, and he said he was able to draw on that experience, when he clinched the title by rallying from a set down after doing the same in his first match.
"I think that Davis Cup final made me much stronger mentally," Verdasco said. "And this preseason, I was working really hard. So today, I was really believing in myself, that I can win the match."
Murray was attempting to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 (Wimbledon, U.S. Open) to win a Grand Slam singles title. But Verdasco now joins fellow Spaniard Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Nadal, the No. 1 seed, advanced with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over 2007 runner-up Fernando Gonzalez of Chile on Monday.
The 22-year-old Spaniard went down a break in the third set but rallied to win five straight games.
"I am playing well, but you never know if it's going to be enough," said Nadal, who had 33 winners and just 11 unforced errors.
Gonzalez, who beat Nadal here in the quarterfinals en route to the final two years ago, had a difficult third-round win. He had to come back from two sets down to beat Richard Gasquet of France 12-10 in the fifth.
Nadal, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion, is bidding to reach his first Australian Open final. He next plays No. 6 Gilles Simon.
Simon suffered a bittersweet experience on Monday, advancing to the quarterfinals after his compatriot and friend Gael Monfils was forced to retire with a painful wrist injury.
France's Simon had been leading 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 and ahead 30-0 in the first game of the fourth set while serving when Monfils, who had been continuously flexing and shaking his right hand throughout the match, called a halt to proceedings.
Monfils, the 12th seed at Melbourne Park, had received treatment on his right wrist during the third set and then had it strapped before the fourth set began.
"Well, you never want to win like this," Simon told reporters. "It's already strange when it's another player, but when it's a friend like Gael it's more difficult."
The 24-year-old Simon said he had chatted to his fellow "New Musketeer," who said he was in pain.
The 22-year-old Monfils said the pain had developed gradually throughout the 119-minute match, and he had initially sought treatment to see if he was imagining it.
"When I really felt [it], it was at 3-1 for Gilles," said Monfils. "I mean, it was maybe 3-0 [in the third set and] I served, that service game, then I started to feel it.
"Then I asked the physio. I was thinking maybe it was [in] my head. Then I said, 'I feel it.'"
Monfils added that he had not experienced a problem in his right wrist before, though he recalled a similar injury last year in his left wrist.
He added the injury had not affected his tactics in the first set when he and Simon had taken the pace off the ball and embarked in long rallies.
Such was the slow pace of the match, at one stage it looked like the pair were involved in a practice session and not the fourth round of a Grand Slam, though Simon said it was deliberate because they knew each other so well.
"I know what he doesn't like to do, and it is the same for him," he said. "That's why it seems maybe a little bit strange during some points.
"But I can't win against him if I just play my game as usual, because he really likes to run right, left, right, left, every time.
"That's why I just wanted to play slower than usual, just to try to attack then, because I wanted to have a speed difference."
Simon said he would be able to easily change his tactics for his next match.
"That was the way I wanted to play [on Monday], I just did what I wanted to do," he said. "But I can play faster than this, I know. I will play faster than this the next match."Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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