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Nadal in form as Murray crumples

Rafael Nadal maintained perfection with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Fernando Gonzalez and moved into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne.

sports Updated: Jan 27, 2009 13:09 IST

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams stayed on track at the Australian Open on Monday but Andy Murray’s campaign came shuddering to a halt and a raft of withdrawals blighted the race to the quarterfinals.

Pre-tournament favourite Murray went down in a gripping five-setter to Spanish star Fernando Verdasco, who downed the Briton 2-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. But Williams was fortunate in a tournament throwing up plenty of surprises when Victoria Azarenka retired ill with an apparent virus while leading 6-3, 2-4.

Azarenka had broken Williams twice to win the first set and was down a break in the second when she became distressed on another scorching Melbourne day. The 19-year-old had a medical time-out at 2-3 in the second set but was staggering around the court before she eventually conceded.

Williams was sympathetic. “I feel so bad, she was playing so well,” she said. Williams now plays eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova for a place in the semifinals, with the Russian also benefiting from a retirement. Kuznetsova went through when China’s Zheng Jie pulled out with a wrist injury while losing 4-1. Fellow Russian Elena Dementieva set up a quarterfinal against Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. She blasted past Slovak 18th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-2. Her next opponent, Suarez Navarro, reached her first Australian Open quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Nadal, who is yet to drop a set, dominated 2007 finalist Gonzalez 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, with the Wimbledon and French Open champion yet to be challenged here after easy wins against Christophe Rochus, Roko Karanusic and Tommy Haas.

Meanwhile, France’s fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga destroyed American number two James Blake 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) to reach the quarterfinals.