Nadal takes hits, moves on

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Rafael Nadal was knocked down, not out.

Hit once on the hand and sent sprawling by another stinging shot aimed in his direction, Nadal kept his composure in a 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 win Thursday over Philipp Kohlschreiber and reached the third round of the Australian Open.

After zinging a shot into Nadal’s left hand at 1-1 in the second set, Kohlschreiber went right at Nadal again in the next game, knocking him down with another laser. Nadal blocked it back as he fell away and dropped his racket, allowing the German to hit an easy winner. Nadal got up slowly, looking over his shoulder and shaking his head.

“The first one I understand, fine – you are in the net, you want to win the point,” Nadal said. “But the second one … he has all court.”

Kohlschreiber went for broke, ripping 48 winners and 58 unforced errors in the 31/2-hour match.

“He was in the way, I think,” Kohlschreiber said. “It’s tough, if you’re not sure to pass him, go to the middle and play fast. I know he’s not used to play so good volleys. For me, it was just a normal play.”

It takes more than a few stingers to intimidate the muscular Nadal, who has spent a record 78 weeks at No. 2 in the rankings behind Roger Federer. But the Spaniard did not help himself, losing his serve three times in the third set.

“It was very important for me – a very good test because I finished the match very good physically,” he said. “I didn’t play good in the third set … I didn’t have confidence in my serve. But it came back.”

Nadal won five titles last season, but has not returned to a final since losing at Wimbledon to Federer last July. He recently was upset in the semifinals at Chennai and then retired with a groin strain from the Sydney International last week. He said a win against Kohlschreiber is another move in the right direction.

“That gives me very good confidence,” he said. “This is the first match in the year when I feel better, I feel good in some moments. So that’s very important or me.”

In other matches, fifth-seeded James Blake dropped his serve twice to fall behind 3-0 in the first set before beating hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. He now faces another American, Robby Ginepri, and has no plans of shaving for the occasion. Blake said he never shaves while he’s winning in a tournament.

Also advancing to the third round were third-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, No. 8 David Nalbandian, No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 15 Andy Murray and local favorite Lleyton Hewitt.

Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis moved closer to another quarterfinal showdown as they raced into the third round. Clijsters, who at 23 has decided this will be her last season on the tour, took 59 minutes in a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Japan’s Akiko Morigami. Hingis was nine minutes slower in her 6-2, 6-2 win over Russian Alla Kudryavtseva.

Top-seeded Maria Sharapova was even faster, winning 6-0, 6-3 over Russian compatriot Anastassia Rodionova in 58 minutes. Three other Russians – No. 9 Dinara Safina, No. 12 Anna Chakvetadze and No. 22 Vera Zvonareva – joined Sharapova in the third round in her half of the draw.

Sharapova thought the conditions were cool after laboring for three hours in her opening win in searing conditions she claims made her delusional.

“My brain cells were restored today,” she said. “It was nice to get a quick one in there today.”

On Friday, Russian women feature in all the singles matches on the center court.

Fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova opens against 2005 Australian Open winner Serena Williams, who has won two of her seven Grand Slam titles at Melbourne Park, followed by an all-Russian match between No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Kirilenko.

Another Russian, U.S. Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny faces top-ranked Federer in a men’s match. Defending champion Federer is on a 32-match winning streak overall and has lost only once in his last 22 matches at Melbourne Park.

Russia’s Marat Safin broke that sequence, pulling an upset over Federer here in the 2005 semifinals en route to the title. But after back-to-back five-setters, Safin will have a challenge on his hands against sixth-seeded Andy Roddick in Friday’s night match.

AP-ES-01-18-07 1528EST

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