Safin, Nadal in China Open quarters
BEIJING: Top seed Rafael Nadal will take on former world No 1 Marat Safin of Russia in the quarterfinals of the China Open after the fan favorites edged their opponents to advance to the round of eight on Thursday.
World No 2 Nadal beat hard-hitting James Blake of the US 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 while Safin, who is winding up his career, defeated Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 6-3, 6-4.
Safin, the Russian wild card, dominated his match with six aces in each set.
Consistently hitting bombs on his first and second serves, Safin needed just one break in each set and never lost serve. He faced only one break point in the entire match.
"Today''s match was very important. I guess the serve was the key and I was confident at the baseline. I made the serves and tried to put pressure on his serve," Safin said after the match.
During the match, Safin, who declared he is going to retire after the tournament in Paris next month, received overwhelming support from the spectators.
"I''m very happy that so many people came to watch me. I appreciate that. They are really supportive," said Safin, a two-time Grand Slam winner. "Hopefully they will also support me tomorrow even though Nadal has a lot of fans here. Anyway, I am happy for my people."
The Spanish top seed was also a crowd-pleaser yesterday.
The world No 2, playing his first tournament since picking up an abdominal injury at the US Open, was not at his rampaging best but still dazzled the spectators with astonishing speed around the court.
"I felt I played really well. It was one of my best matches since my knee injury," said Nadal, who missed defending his Wimbledon title due to tendinitis in both knees.
Blake''s strong hitting caused Nadal trouble in the second set and forced the game into a tiebreak before the Spaniard unleashed a barrage of blistering ground strokes.
"It''s an important win because James is always a very tough opponent. He''s a very good player. I think he has one of the best returns of any player I have played. Winning in three sets always gives you confidence but today what really gives me confidence is how I played," Nadal said.
Meanwhile, Safin said he is ready to give the world No 2 a severe test in their quarterfinal.
"Nadal is going to be the favorite. But I have no pressure at all to defend any points or anything. I''m just going to play my game, go for it, be aggressive and then we''ll see. It''s going to be my biggest match in a long time, so I''m pretty excited.
"Nadal went through two tough matches but he is still here. He is still fighting. Whenever there was a small chance, he seized it. He''s going to be dangerous," said Safin, the world No 59. "He was world No 1 and he was there for a long time. It''s going to be really competitive and I have to play well to have a chance against him."