By Steve Keating
CINCINNATI (Reuters) - The winners of the season's first three grand slams Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal put on a masterclass at the Western and Southern Open on Wednesday, strolling into the third round with straight sets wins.
Center court at the sprawling Lindner Family Tennis Center turned into a parade of champions as fans savored an action-packed day that began under a bright morning sun with Wimbledon winner Murray breezing past Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-2 6-3.
Australian Open champ Djokovic beat Argentine Juan Monaco 7-5 6-2 to move a step closer to becoming the first player to win all nine World Tour Masters titles, before French Open winner Nadal dispatched German Benjamin Becker in equally impressive fashion, 6-2 6-2, under the floodlights.
Nadal, who has been in superb form opening up his hardcourt campaign with a win in Montreal on Sunday, continued to build momentum towards the U.S. Open later this month and extended his hardcourt winning streak to 11 matches.
"I played well tonight, I should be very happy the way that I played since the beginning," Nadal told reporters. "Just for a few games the serve was down a little bit. For the rest, I think I played a great match.
"When you change cities, change a little bit of weather, the feelings on the ball is different and when you have these kind of tournaments back to back it's not easy, but I'm very happy with the way I played this afternoon and the way that I adapted the game."
Djokovic and Murray have met in the Cincinnati final twice before, in 2008 and 2011, and the world's top two players appear on collision course once again.
Murray won both previous meetings but the big Serb, who has four runner-up finishes on the Ohio hardcourts, will be determined to be the last man standing this year and become the first player to complete what the ATP Tour has dubbed the 'Career Golden Masters'.
Murray and Djokovic have been making a habit of meeting when something big is on the line.
They clashed in the finals of three of the last four grand slams with Djokovic coming out on top in Australia and Murray the winner at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
Murray, who had a slow start to the hardcourt season with a third round loss in Montreal last week, arrived in Cincinnati eager to get in matches ahead of the August 26 to September 9 U.S. Open, where he will arrive as a defending grand slam champion for the first time.
The Cincinnati hardcourts proved a perfect spot to build some momentum, and Youzhny the perfect opponent, as the Wimbledon champion needed just 70 minutes to run his record to 4-0 against the overmatched Russian.
"I thought he made more mistakes than I'd expected," said Murray. "But he played yesterday and very different conditions today because it was cool on the court.
"I just wanted to try to play a high percentage match because I think it's important for me to try to get a few matches this week, if I can.
"I did what I wanted to do and got through the match."
In other matches, Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych was a 6-3 6-2 winner over Finland's Jarkko Nieminen while seventh seed Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, tamed Russian Nikolay Davydenko 7-5 7-5.
American John Isner beat Frenchman Richard Gasquet, the eighth seed, 7-6(6) 6-2 while Canada's Milos Raonic, who moved into the top 10 for the first time this week, continued his good form by beating Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic 6-4 7-6(4).
(Editing by Peter Rutherford/Frank Pingue)