Serena Williams tops Petrova in Australia

Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams stayed on track for an improbable eighth Grand Slam singles title, beating fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 toon Friday to advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Limited to four tournaments last year because of a chronic knee injury, the 2005 Australian Open champion dropped to 95th in the year-end rankings.

"I felt like I was doing everything right in the first set, and she just killed me," Williams said. "I was trying to figure out what to do."

She did, dictating early in the second and having breakpoint at 3-0, before Petrova rallied and won the next four games. The fifth-seeded Russian was serving for the match in the 10th, but Williams broke to tie it at 5-5 and then held serve.

Petrova admonished herself while eating an energy bar during the changeover. That didn't help, and Williams, with the capacity crowd of 15,000 increasingly behind her, won the second set when Petrova double-faulted.

Williams broke Petrova again twice in the third, cutting her unforced errors to nine, and ended it in 2 hours, 5 minutes when Petrova netted a service return.

"I am excited," Williams said, "I am having so much fun, I feel like playing another game right now."

Rain forced a delay in the start of some matches on the outside courts Friday, and the showers quickly returned, forcing a suspension in play for nearly two hours. The roofs on both Rod Laver Arena and the other showcourt were closed, allowing play to continue.

On Thursday, 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 over Philipp Kohlschreiber in a second-round match.

Kohlschreiber, after zinging a shot into Nadal's left hand at 1-1 in the second set, went right at Nadal again in the next game, knocking him down with another.

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 3-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."

Fifth-seeded James Blake beat hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. advancing along with 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.

An all-Russian match was scheduled later Friday on center court, with No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova facing aria 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.

Marat Safin, who broke Federer's sequence here the 2005 semifinals, faced sixth-seeded Andy Roddick in Friday's night match.

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