Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are edging closer to their scheduled semi-final meeting at the US Open which, if it materialises, will surprisingly be, in view of their lengthy careers, the first time the pair have played a match against each other at Flushing Meadows.
They have shown a bit of ‘rustiness’ in their respective wins in New York this week despite the fact that the two thirty-year-olds, after lengthy lay-offs last year, returned to the game to dominate the Grand Slams.
I'm really excited how I feel after two five-setters. It was clearly nice to go up two sets to love for a change. Feels different from there. Roger Federer
In their respective third round meetings, Federer produced a much more clinical performance having been taken to five-setters in both his preceding games which raised doubts as to whether he could last the full fortnight worrying about his back.
In his third-round match against Feliciano Lopez, the 36-year-old erased any such doubts as he cruised through to the fourth round 6-3 6-3 7-5 against the Spaniard who was expected to give him trouble.
He showed no signs of injury and looked a lot sharper than earlier in the week as he admitted: “I struggled the first couple of rounds, but that had something to do with my opponents as well. I think I played a very clean match tonight, I couldn’t be happier.
“To win in straight sets against Feliciano, who’s been such a tough competitor over the years, is such a great feeling.
“I’m really excited how I feel after two five-setters. It was clearly nice to go up two sets to love for a change. Feels different from there.
“I needed to get over the fear of the back issue, especially in that first match, the first set. Then I think the wobble I had in the second round was due to my preparation.
“I think now I’m just trusting my movement better. My serve is there. My mind is there. I can finally focus on playing tennis and not so much about the past.”
The third seed at this year’s last major required just one-hour and 46-minutes to dispatch his third opponent of the week and will now face Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in the last 16 as he continues his campaign to improve his record of 19 grand slam titles.
In contrast earlier in the day, Rafa Nadal, playing under the roof of the Arthur Ashe Stadium which he finds irritatingly noisy, had to get over another slow and sluggish start to remain on course for that first meeting at the US Open against his Swiss rival.
The Spaniard icon progressed into the fourth round by defeating Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1 6-4, taking full control after playing a disastrous tie-break.
“All the matches have been very tight – I am very happy,” Nadal commented following his third victory of the week. “I don’t know how many break-points I had before I got the first one. Mentally, I fought a lot until that moment, then I think I played better.
“You need matches like this. I am in the second week. That’s the important thing. I’ve already won three matches in a row.
“I think the best thing is I had a lot of moments to be very frustrated in the match, and I was not. I was just fighting for the next point and with the right mentality, with the right spirit of fight in all moments.”
Alexandr Dolgopolov will provide him with his next challenge for, despite being investigated for alleged match-fixing, the Ukranian is riding a streak of success this week which includes the scalp of Tomas Berdych.
However the 31-year-old Nadal is not looking too far ahead when asked about the possibility of his meeting Federer next week.
“I am in the fourth round now. I don’t think much about that,” he replied. “It’s a long way away. All the matches have been very tough.”
“The only thing I am looking for is the practice tomorrow to keep working hard and focus on the match against Dolgopolov.”
The large figure of Juan Martin del Potro is also looming and he could well provide Federer with another testing match should they both progress past round four.
The big Argentine, who won the US Open title eight years ago as a 20-year-old is finally settling back into the tour following a series of operations to his wrist.
In that time, he has missed 10 of the last 15 grand slam tournament but has reached the fourth round without dropping a set, his latest victim being Roberto Bautista Agut, the 11th seeded Spaniard, who went down 6-3 6-3 6-4
Del Potro said later: “I just came to try to get better and I’m surprising myself. It’s a very special tournament to me. I’m getting good energy from the crowd in every match, and I’m feeling every day much better with my game.
“I think I played the best match of the tournament. I hit so well my forehand. I served well during the whole match. I played very smart with my slice. I came to the net very often, tried to be aggressive all the time, and I think I played well.”
The powerful Argentine takes on the sixth seeded Dominic Thiem next, the Austrian having dispatched Adrian Mannarino 7-5 6-3 6-4
Finally, the ninth seeded David Goffin progressed when Gael Monfils pulled out with a right knee problem trailing 7-5 5-1 and he will face the Russian teenager Andrey Rublev youngster who followed up his big win over Grigor Dimitrov by ousting Damir Dzumhur 6-4 6-4 5-7 6-4.