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Published:May 29th, 2009 20:55 EST
Rafael Nadal's Looming Presence at Roland Garros

Nadal Keeping Pace Towards Fifth Claycourt Slam; Murray Reaches New Career-Best

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Rafael Nadal demonstrated why he is the frontrunner for the French Open title this year to Lleyton Hewitt who hasn`t been able to figure out how to beat the plucky southpaw three times in the last four years in Paris. The four-time Roland Garros champion and last year`s Wimbledon winner now advances to the top 16 after defeating Hewitt 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 on Friday. With the win, the 22-year-old Spaniard netted his 31st consecutive victory at the tournament. Nadal confronts 25th seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden in the fourth round.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal pounced on two early break point opportunities, leading to a swift 5-1 advantage before he broke out and triumphed in the final game to take the first set in under 35 minutes.

In the first game of the second set, the world number one broke Hewitt`s serve back to love before the resilent Aussie scrambled to gain footing in the match by breaking Nadal`s serve, tying the set at two all.

Lleyton Hewitt

Hewitt could only muster one more win in the set to even the score, before the Mallorcan ramped up his approach and broke Hewitt once more with a well-placed forehand winner to take the lead 4-3. The Spaniard pulled off two more victories off his specialized ball striking ability on clay surfaces, and ran the count two sets to none in his favor.

Andy Murray

The former number one Hewitt experienced a similar predicament during his first round win over 28th ranked Ivo Karlovic from Croatia when he fell two sets down but went on the offensive and took the next three to place in the second round. But Hewitt couldn`t re-create those results against Nadal who won nine of the match`s final 10 games and the match itself in under two hours on the court.

Novak Djokovic

The lefty seldom makes pricy errors on his court of choice, but faltered a few times prior to Friday`s match in the 2009 French Open. But the third round found Nadal playing better than he had in the first two rounds.

"For sure it was my best match here so far," Nadal said. "I felt much better today and a win against Lleyton is always a great win. It was an amazing result."

The 28-year-old former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion attested to the prowess Nadal brings to competition.

"It`s tough against him," Hewitt confessed. "You have to start well as he is such a great player when he`s in front. He goes for his shots and dictates all the time so it gets harder and harder. He`s hitting the ball extremely clean and he as that heavy spin. He makes you rush, he hits passing shots on the run and makes you try harder."

Scottish-born Andy Murray, the third seed playing for Great Britain, moved on to the last 16 after turning in his finest showing in the Paris annual. Murray was up 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 over his opponent Janko Tipsarevic from Serbia when the latter suffered a hamstring injury forcing him to retire the match and allowing Murray to advance to the fourth round.

"It`s good to be in the second week," Murray said. "I`d love to go further and try and go very deep into the tournament. I`m playing well enough and just have to keep the consistency."

The Scotsman is anticipating his next matchup placing him up against Marin Cilic from Croatia who stomped Radek Stepanek from the Czech Republic in their third round contest. Murray has a 1-0 record over the 13 seed dating from their introduction at Mutua Madrilena Masters Madrid last October.

"He`s got a big game, and he`s dangerous if he`s confident," he said. "But I beat him the times we`ve played on the tour. I`ll take that into the match."

Fourth ranked Novak Djokovic advanced to the third round by trouncing Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. Djokovic will bid for a fourth round placing against 29th ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber from Germany who stunted 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero from continuing on into the third round.

Fernando Verdasco of Spain struggled in his battle against fellow countryman Nicolas Almagro, requiring nine match points to beat the 31st seed 6-2, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (10/8). In his fourth round showdown, Verdasco will face Russian number 10 Nikolay Davydenko, a two-time French Open semi-finalist, who defeated Stanilas Wawrinka of Switzerland in four sets 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Though he has straggled in recent competition, Verdasco`s win sets up a key opportunity for the eighth seeded player to reprise his marquee duel with Nadal from the 2009 Australian Open semifinals which the 25-year-old lost.

French lucky loser Josselin Ouanna, who eliminated Marat Safin in round three, was brought down by Chilean 12th seed Fernando Gonzalez 7-5, 6-3, 7-5. Gonzalez will vie for a spot in the quarter-finals with 30th ranked Victor Hanescu from Romania who pulled off the upset against France`s number seven Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.