Blake's beard going strong; Clijsters, Hingis closer to showdown

James Blake hopes his beard is big and bushy by the end of next week.

The superstitious Blake, who doesn't shave as long as he's still alive in a tournament, advanced to the third round of the Australian Open by beating hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 Thursday.

Now he faces another buddy, Robby Ginepri, who beat German qualifier Mischa Zverev 6-4, 7-5, 6-1.

Two other friends Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis raced to see who could finish their match first and took another step toward a possible quarterfinals showdown.

None of them was as fast as Maria Sharapova. The top women's seed, who endured three hours of broiling heat in her first-round match Tuesday, needed only 58 minutes to beat fellow Russian Anastassia Rodionova 6-0, 6-3.

"My brain cells were restored today," said Sharapova, who described herself as delusional in her last match. "It was nice to get a quick one in there today."

Men's No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko had later matches.

There were no surprises when the fifth-seeded Blake faced off against the 216th-ranked Kuznetsov, who was playing with a titanium rod in his right leg the result of a car accident less than two years ago.

"It's not like him playing somebody he doesn't know or doesn't know the pace," Blake said. "He knows how well I can move, he knows the things I can do. It's almost a little frustrating. I probably don't get that kind of respect or anything like that because he knows he can beat me."

For three games, it looked like an upset could happen. Blake came out a little flat while Kuznetsov, who survived three rounds of qualifying and a five-set first-rounder that didn't end until 2 a.m. Wednesday, was hot, reports AP.

"Alex played great," Blake said. "He was cracking returns."

Kuznetsov, who was born in the Ukraine and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 3, took two quick service breaks before Blake, refusing to panic, pulled himself together and started ripping winners.

"I think maybe at that point he started realizing what he was doing, what court he was on and kind of the arena that he was in," Blake said. "That's something I hopefully have going for me now, is a little bit of experience, and to ride that storm that Alex was kind of bringing to me."

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