Nadal extends clay streak to 73 games

5/9/2007 - Tennis

ROME -- Despite feeling dizzy, Rafael Nadal extended his clay-court winning streak to 73 matches with a 6-4, 6-2 victory Wednesday over Italian wild card Daniele Bracciali at the Rome Masters.

Andy Roddick, playing for the first time since injuring his hamstring in a Davis Cup win last month, defeated Gaston Gaudio 6-1, 7-6 (8). James Blake lost to Nicolas Massu 7-6 (3), 7-5.

Nadal is attempting to become the first player to win the tournament three consecutive times.

"It was very difficult for me in the first eight games," Nadal said. "Before the match I went to see the doctor and he said it was nothing. Now I'm going back."

While Bracciali appeared to run out of energy late in the match, the 125th-ranked Italian displayed a strong game plan against the No. 2 player.

Bracciali served to Nadal's backhand and consistently won points when he followed his serve into the net. He also varied the pace of his shots well during a stretch in the first set when he won three of four games to trail 4-3.

"He never makes any errors so it's tough to win points," Bracciali said. "The only chance is to try and attack. When the rallies last longer he's too tough to handle."

Nadal will next face 15th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, who the Spaniard lost to on hard courts in Dubai earlier this year. Youzhny eliminated Olivier Rochus 7-6 (7), 6-3.

"He's one of the more difficult players for me," Nadal said of Youzhny. "If I don't play my best tennis, it's going to be a very difficult match."

Roddick breezed through the first set but required five match points before putting away the winning volley against Gaudio. The 71st-ranked Gaudio forced Roddick to miss volleys at his feet to save the first two match points.

"I was thankful to get through in two after that. To win a third set might have been a tall task," said Roddick, who will next face Juan Ignacio Chela. "I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but today was fun."

Roddick attacked well and even showed some clay-court savvy, pulling off a difficult backhand drop-shot winner to set up his first match point.

"It's probably the first time -- and last time -- where if you asked me what my best shot was, I'd say my drop shot," Roddick said. "I've been trying to work on it a little more."

Roddick was sharp overall with his volleys, winning 20 of 32 points at the net. He also never dropped his serve and saved two set points in the second.

Roddick said his coach Jimmy Connors suggested moving to the net more.

"I think moving forward has become a little more prevalent in our day-to-day game plans since we've been working together," said Roddick, who hired Connors last July.

Connors will rejoin Roddick at the French Open, which begins May 27.

The 28-year-old Gaudio said he was considering retirement.

"After Hamburg and Roland Garros, I'll decide whether I'm going to continue," he said.

In other action, fifth-seeded Novak Djokovic, who won his third title of the season at Estoril on Sunday, rallied to beat Robin Soderling 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Filippo Volandri eliminated 13th-seeded Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

Volandri was helped the home fans, who created a soccer match-like atmosphere. He acknowledged that he'll "need more than the fans' enthusiasm" for his next match -- against top-ranked Roger Federer.

Sixth-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, No. 7 Tommy Robredo and No. 12 Tomas Berdych all advanced.

Gonzalez rolled past Dmitry Tursunov 6-2, 6-1; Robredo ousted Spanish qualifier Oscar Hernandez 7-5, 4-6, 6-1; and Berdych defeated Albert Montanes 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Last year's Australian Open runner-up, Marcos Baghdatis, eliminated Radek Stepanek 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 and will next face Djokovic.

In a mild upset, Gilles Simon beat Guillermo Canas 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Canas is a former top-10 player whose ranking dropped during a 15-month doping suspension. He lost to Nadal in the final in Barcelona last month and beat Federer twice on hard courts earlier this year.