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Na Li from China serves the ball during a Madrid Open tennis tournament match against Sloane Stephens from U.S. in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, May 8, 2014 . (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
Tennis: Nadal, Serena, Li Na advance to Madrid quarters
First Published May 08 2014 09:50 am • Last Updated May 08 2014 11:19 pm

Madrid • Defending champions Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams lined up Madrid Open quarterfinals against tough Czechs with straight-set wins on Thursday.

Nadal’s match on Friday should be more revealing. He hadn’t lost a quarterfinal on clay in nine years until last month in Monte Carlo, and repeated in Barcelona. Returning to the Magic Box tennis center has helped him restore some confidence.

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Nadal let slip a 3-1 lead in the second set before beating Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 6-1, 6-4.

"I started better on clay (today) than I have all season since Monte Carlo," Nadal said. "I did the things I had to do, and I’ll keep trying to do them tomorrow."

Nadal will play Tomas Berdych next after the sixth-seeded Czech beat Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Williams earned her 650th career victory with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Carla Suarez Navarro, who couldn’t carry over the success of winning her first career title in Portugal on Saturday to the Spanish capital.

Williams, in pursuit of her 60th title, hit 27 winners to her Spanish opponent’s five, while securing seven break points in the sun.

"She made me work for every point and it wasn’t an easy win," the top-ranked American said. "She just won last week, so she is definitely not an easy player to play."

Williams goes on to play 2011 champion Petra Kvitova after the fifth-seeded Czech beat countrywoman Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-3.

Australian Open champion Li Na and third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska also won in the third round.

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After a poor opening set, the second-ranked Li overcame a slew of unforced errors and a bothersome toe problem to beat Sloane Stephens of the United States 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

"After the first set I was like, ‘Calm down,’" said Li, who needed two hours to pull out the win. "I say, ‘OK, I cannot only think about what happened for the game, you have to look forward otherwise you cannot make it.’"

Radwanska won 6-1, 6-1 over Roberta Vinci of Italy.

Also, Japanese player Kei Nishikori continued his good run on clay as the Barcelona Open winner beat Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) on the men’s side.

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