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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rafa Nadal and Maria Sharapova storm into second week of Wimbledon

Reigning champion Rafa Nadal was in miserly mood as he reached the business end of Wimbledon on Saturday with a 7-6 7-6 6-0 third-round victory over Luxembourg's Gilles Muller. The top seed returned to Court One a set to the good after rain had interrupted his progress on Friday and after some dogged resistance from wildcard Muller, the last man to beat him here other than Roger Federer, Nadal roared through.

Nadal, who committed just three unforced errors in the match, faces a real test in the last 16 where 2009 US champion Juan Martin del Potro awaits after the Argentine completed victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon. Sixth seed Tomas Berdych, the man Nadal beat to claim his second Wimbledon crown last year, is looking a threat again after an easy third round win over Alex Bogomolov Jr., a result that left Mardy Fish as the sole American survivor in the men's draw at the halfway stage.

Maria Sharapova, the 2004 women's champion, took her customary place in the second week as the fifth seed overpowered Czech Klara Zakopalova 6-2 6-3 after the Russian was given a noon appointment on Court Two. The scheduling of the top women's players on what is the club's third court has been a bone of contention this week after defending champion Serena Williams, five-times winner Venus Williams and world number one Caroline Wozniacki have all made their way across the ground to the eye-catching bowl.

Wozniacki was up-graded to Centre Court on Saturday as the expected sunshine and higher temperatures took a while to materialise and the Dane maintained her trouble-free start with a 6-3 6-2 defeat of 27th seed Jarmila Gajdosova.

The 13-times grand slam singles champion Serena Williams took to Centre Court bidding to continue her impressive comeback from 11 months out with a third-round match against Russian Maria Kirilenko.

Former world number one Ana Ivanovic was sent packing by Czech Petra Cetkovska 6-2 7-6, failing to win a point in the tiebreak.

Nadal complained of a slight thigh injury after dispatching Muller, the result of a slip on Friday when he was required to save two set points, but there was little evidence of any chinks in his armour as he surged into the last 16. "I think I played solid mentally, and in the tiebreak I served all my points with the first serve," Nadal told reporters. "When I had the chance to return, I won the point."

"The third set, two sets to love, I am able to play with less pressure. I started to return unbelievable and to play at very high level." Left-handed Muller, a player with a pleasing array of strokes and dangerous serve, has never really fulfilled his potential since his 2005 victory over Nadal but he dug in to keep his opponent on his toes. He traded blows with the 2 year-old Mallorcan in the second set was still a threat until 5-5 in the tiebreak when one mistake cost him dear.

Nadal put Muller to the sword in the third set and immediately turned his attention to Del Potro. "I'm not lucky to play against Del Potro in the round of 16," Nadal said. "But that's what it is, and I have to be playing my best tennis to try to win." The other two members of the Big Four, six-times champion Roger Federer and second seed Novak Djokovic, aim to join Nadal and British hope Andy Murray, in the last 16 later on Saturday.

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