London — Rafael Nadal is on his way to the fourth round at Wimbledon, and he’s three matches away from taking over as the No. 1 player in the world.
Nadal beat Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3) Friday on Centre Court. If he reaches the final at the All England Club, the two-time Wimbledon champion will take over from Andy Murray as the top-ranked player in the world.
“First set and a half, I think, was very, very well. Very happy (with) the way that I played,” Nadal said in a television interview after walking off court. “Then it was a little bit tougher. I think I stopped a little bit with the legs and he started to hit stronger, but he’s still a tough opponent and it’s impossible to win easy.”
Defending champion Andy Murray also had a tough opponent, but he came through a difficult fourth set to beat Fabio Fognini 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
Fognini led 5-2 in the fourth set and had five set points, but Murray won the final five games to reach the fourth round.
“When you’re playing a guy who has all the shots like him, it’s difficult,” Murray said. “He generates power with very short swings. It’s difficult to see when he’s going to hit the ball big and he was taking me out of my rhythm.”
Nadal was playing in front of several sports stars seated in the Royal Box, including David Beckham. Sergio Garcia, the Spanish golfer who was wearing his green Masters jacket, was also there.
“He’s having an amazing season, especially with that victory, amazing victory in the Masters,” Nadal said. “So, just great to see him and thanks for coming.”
Nadal is having a pretty good season, too. He reached the Australian Open final, losing to Roger Federer, and won the French Open. The title at Roland Garros was his 10th at the clay-court major.
On Monday, Nadal will face Gilles Muller in the fourth round. Muller beat Nadal at the All England Club in 2005, but the Spaniard got one back in 2011. That was the last time Nadal got past the fourth round at Wimbledon, reaching the final but losing to Novak Djokovic.
“He’s a specialist on grass,” Nadal said of Muller. “Probably his best surface, without a doubt.”
Murray will next face Benoit Paire. The Frenchman beat Jerzy Janowicz 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Earlier Friday, Victoria Azarenka extended her Grand Slam comeback into the second week.
The former No. 1 from Belarus, who gave birth to her first child in December, advanced to the fourth round by beating Heather Watson 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Centre Court.
Azarenka also lost the first set in her opening match, but that was only her third match since her return. Friday’s match was her fifth.
“This is the matches that you’re looking for,” Azarenka said, “try to find a way when not everything goes great.”
The two-time Grand Slam champion will next face Simona Halep on Monday in the fourth round. The second-seeded Romanian beat Peng Shuai 6-4, 7-6 (7).
Venus Williams, a five-time Wimbledon champion, beat Naomi Osaka 7-6 (3), 6-4 and will next face 27th-seeded Ana Konjuh.
Fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, sixth-seeded Johanna Konta, 21st-seeded Caroline Garcia and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko also reached the fourth round.
For the men, ninth-seeded Kei Nishikori was eliminated. The 2014 U.S. Open finalist lost to Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.
“I couldn’t maintain my level high enough,” Nishikori said. “He served well every set. Was really tough time (on) my return game.”
Marin Cilic, the man who beat Nishikori in that U.S. Open final, advanced to the fourth round by beating Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4. The seventh-seeded Croat will next face Bautista Agut on Monday.
Kevin Anderson also advanced and will next face either Sam Querrey or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Their match was suspended because of darkness with Querrey leading 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-5.
FRIDAY'S WIMBLEDON RESULTS
Gilles Muller (16), Luxembourg, def. Aljaz Bedene, Britain, 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-4.
Roberto Bautista Agut (18), Spain, def. Kei Nishikori (9), Japan, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.
Marin Cilic (7), Croatia, def. Steve Johnson (26), United States, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
Benoit Paire, France, def. Jerzy Janowicz, Poland, 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Rafael Nadal (4), Spain, def. Karen Khachanov (30), Russia, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
Kevin Anderson, South Africa, def. Ruben Bemelmans, Belgium, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (3).
Andy Murray (1), Britain, def. Fabio Fognini (28), Italy, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
Sam Querrey (24), United States, leads Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12), France, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-5, susp., darkness.
Caroline Garcia (21), France, def. Madison Brengle, United States, 6-4, 6-3.
Victoria Azarenka, Belarus, def. Heather Watson, Britain, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Simona Halep (2), Romania, def. Peng Shuai, China, 6-4, 7-6 (7).
Ana Konjuh (27), Croatia, def. Dominika Cibulkova (8), Slovakia, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4.
Elina Svitolina (4), Ukraine, def. Carina Witthoeft, Germany, 6-1, 7-5.
Johanna Konta (6), Britain, def. Maria Sakkari, Greece, 6-4, 6-1.
Jelena Ostapenko (13), Latvia, def. Camila Giorgi, Italy, 7-5, 7-5.
Venus Williams (10), United States, def. Naomi Osaka, Japan, 7-6 (3), 6-4.