Nadal's hard-court title dream draws closer

Rafael Nadal made up for lost time on a day of rain interruptions, racing to a 6-1, 6-2 victory on Wednesday night over Brazilian Ricardo Mello for a third-round place at the $2,2-million Montreal Masters.

The top-seeded teenager will have only hours to recover before a Thursday match against Sebastien Grosjean, who endured a delay of his own before taming fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

Nadal took to the court nearly three hours after his original start time as play was interrupted several times on a trying day for officials.

The French Open champion owns eight clay trophies this season but is in the hunt for his first ever on hard court.

His quick victory marked his 60th of the season, as he has won 12 matches in a row since a second-round Wimbledon defeat.

His 60th win made Nadal the first teenager to achieve the mark in one season since 2000, when Lleyton Hewitt went 61-19, but the Spaniard from Mallorca still has just less than half the season to add to his total.

Fourth seed Andre Agassi, number five Nikolay Davydenko and sixth-seeded Gaston Gaudio all advanced to the final 16 in Montreal, with Agassi’s win one of the day’s highlights.

The veteran squeezed out a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 win in a battle of tennis greybeards as the 35-year-old legend beat 33-year-old Swede Jonas Bjorkman for the fifth consecutive time.

“I can’t complain; it felt good out there,” the winner said. “Jonas is one of those guys that if he starts holding serve comfortably a few times, he even gets more dangerous with his return, so I anticipated it to get pretty tough out there.”

Three-time champion Agassi came in riding a six-match winning streak after capturing the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles on July 31. He next faces German Nicolas Kiefer, a 2004 semifinalist, who defeated Taylor Dent 6-4, 6-4.

Mario Ancic and Greg Rusedski set up a first meeting on the ATP as both fought through three-set battles.

Ancic from Croatia, a 2004 Wimbledon semifinalist, overcame qualifier Florent Serra 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 after the Frenchman advanced into the second round when Lleyton Hewitt quit their match with illness after seven games.

Britain’s Rusedski came through to great crowd support in the city where he grew up as he defeated Max Mirnyi in a battle of serves 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).

Paul-Henri Mathieu followed up on his first-round knockout of Andy Roddick, ousting French compatriot Arnaud Clement 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Belgian Olivier Rochus also advanced as Swede Robin Soderling had to quit near the end with an ankle injury, handing over a 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 5-2 victory.—Sapa-DPA

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