The world No 1 Nadal survives a stiff challenge from young local turk Tomic but admits he needs to step up with other strong contenders.
Murray, Zvonareva, Clijsters reach Australian Open's fourth round
MELBOURNE // Andy Murray moved another step closer to consecutive Australian Open finals and Kim Clijsters remained on course for back-to-back major titles with third-round wins.
Fifth-seeded Murray had little trouble beating Guillermo Garcia Lopez 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Rafa Nadal's quest to win four consecutive grand slam titles survived a feisty third-round challenge from teenager Bernard Tomic as record crowds flocked to the Australian Open in the hope of local success.
Although never a real scare, the threat from the Australian 18-year-old during a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 win was such that the Spanish world No 1 admitted he will have to improve, especially with his main rivals in ominous form.
The US Open champion Clijsters beat Alize Cornet 7-6 (3), 6-3, spoiling 21st birthday plans for her French opponent. Cornet provided a tougher challenge for Clijsters, who had only conceded four games in her first two rounds.
Cornet fended off two match points on her serve before the 27-year-old Belgian closed it out.
"It was tough. She's a tricky player," Clijsters said. "During the match I felt like I was playing two different persons. I had to constantly move my feet, and work harder."
Clijsters was happy to survive the third round, where she experienced her worst Grand Slam loss ever last year when she took only one game off Nadia Petrova. The pair was seeded to meet again in the fourth round, but Ekaterina Makarova prevented the rematch by beating No 13 Petrova 6-2, 3-6, 8-6.
Second-seeded Vera Zvonareva kept alive her bid for a third consecutive Grand Slam final with a 6-3, 7-6 (9) win over Lucie Safarova.
Zvonareva, who lost the US Open final to Clijsters, served for the match twice against Safarova but was extended to the tiebreaker. Safarova led 4-2 and 5-3 in the tiebreaker before Zvonareva finally sealed it on her fourth match point.
Zvonareva has a chance to move into the No 1 ranking her by winning the title. Her priority now is getting past a fourth-round match against Iveta Benesova, who beat No 16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 1-6, 7-5. No 10 Shahar Peer was also ousted, losing 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 to No 22 Flavia Pennetta.
No 12 Agnieszka Radwanska cruised past Simona Halep 6-1, 6-2 and will next play China's Peng Shuai, who had a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Japan's Ayumi Morita.
On the men's side, Murray set the tone against Garcia Lopez in the first game, rallying from 40-0 to break serve.
"The first game doesn't always dictate the way the match is going to go, but it definitely helped today," said Murray, who lost the 2010 final to Roger Federer. He's only dropped 17 games through three rounds.
In the other extreme, No 15 Marin Cilic had a 4-6, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 9-7 win over No 20 John Isner in 4 hours, 33 minutes. It was the first five-set match Isner had played since his epic encounter against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon last year which finished 70-68 in the fifth and was the longest tennis match ever in terms of games and duration.
Isner's departure left Andy Roddick as the only American in either the men's or women's draws.
Cilic will next play the winner of Saturday's night match between top-ranked Rafael Nadal and 18-year-old Australian wildcard Bernard Tomic.
Another former finalist was ousted, with 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France losing 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Milos Raonic, a 20-year-old Canadian qualifier with the fastest serve in the first two rounds of the tournament at 143 mph, fired 32 aces while pushing aside No 10 Mikhail Youzhny with a 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win.
"I didn't really count myself out. I knew the chances were in his favor, but I knew I was prepared to fight for every point, however long it took," said Raonic, who was born in Montenegro and moved to Canada in 1994. "I can't say I would be shocked if I wasn't here. But I'm not really shocked I am here."
He'll play No 7 David Ferrer, a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 winner over Richard Berankis, in the next round.
No 4 Robin Soderling, who beat Jan Hernych 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 and next plays Dolgopolov, hasn't dropped a set and is on an eight-match winning streak with his three at Melbourne Park after winning the tuneup tournament at Brisbane. He's lost the last two French Open finals to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but has some big victories over the dominant pair and is confident both can be beaten at Melbourne Park.
"There's always going to be a lot of attention on Roger and Rafa, of course," he said. "But I think there's many guys who can actually compete against them and have a chance to win the tournaments like this when they're playing well.
"I already played two Grand Slam finals and I beat them both in Grand Slams. But, again, of course they will always be the favorites, and we are the guys who need to play really well if we're going to have a chance to beat them."
Soderling's match was delayed for about 10 minutes in the third set when a bubble seemed to appear on the court surface at Hisense Arena. A similar bubble delayed the start of a match on the same court the previous night.
Tournament organizers said moisture from recent rains had gathered under the court's Plexicushion layer in the unseasonably cool conditions and evaporated as temperatures rose, causing a pocket of vapor that lifted part of the surface. Stadium staff repaired the problem quickly both times.
Temperatures rose elsewhere, too. There was some heated moments in the men's doubles, with match officials stepping in to calm a heated exchange at the net.
Spain's Feliciano Lopez accused India's Leander Paes of trying to provoke him and his partner Juan Monaco of Argentina during their second-round match. Paes and partner Mahesh Bhupathi won 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Television footage showed all four players arguing at the net, and Lopez claimed Paes had tried "to provoke us all the time."