US Open Day 8 | Rafa finds his true form
Having struggled somewhat in his opening matches, Rafa Nadal struck gold as he trounced Alexandr Dolgopolov in just one-hour and 41-minutes 6-2 6-4 6-1 in what was his most impressive performance of the tournament to date.
That will no doubt raise his confidence as the world number one edges towards that first ever encounter at the US Open with Roger Federer but he has one more hurdle to clear in the shape of Andrey Rublev, the Russian teenager who ousted the ninth seeded David Goffin.
I played with not many mistakes. I know Dolgopolov is a player who can play amazing shots but sometimes he can be a little bit unpredictable Rafa Nadal
“I think I played a solid match,” said the 31-year-old Spaniard. “I played with not many mistakes. I know Dolgopolov is a player who can play amazing shots but sometimes he can be a little bit unpredictable
“He combines amazing points with mistakes. I tried to be very focused with my serve and to wait for the opportunities on the return. I’m in the quarter-finals in New York, that’s a positive result for me and I’m looking forward to trying to be playing better.
“I feel that comparing to other days, I feel more calm on court. Is true that I was able to have the break earlier, but really I felt more comfortable from since the beginning.
“Most important thing is more times I had the control of the time of the point. Not many balls surprise me. I didn’t hit a lot of balls earlier than what I thought or later than what I thought, something that happened in the first couple of days.
“And that’s very good news. Now I have a tough opponent, Rublev, next round, and I need to continue to play well.”
It was the two-time champion’s 50th win at Flushing Meadows and it will be his seventh quarter-final, his first since 2003. Nadal hit 23 winners and made only 11 errors. He won a total of 89 points to his opponent’s 60.
Rublev came through 7-5 7-6(5) 6-3 as he continued to pull off surprise wins and become the youngest man to reach the U.S. Open quarter-finals since Andy Roddick in 2001.
It was a solid performance and his reward is playing his idol in the next round.
“Rafa is the real champion and I am going to just try and enjoy it,” the teenager said. “This is the quarter-finals I have nothing to lose.”
For much of the first two sets the match was close with Rublev gaining the advantage when he broke Goffin at 6-5 in the first.
The Belgian, who had his left knee heavily taped, struck back in the second to lead 3-0, only for his young opponent to string together four consecutive games and eventually force the tie-breaker which he took with an aggressive and well-placed forehand into the corner.
Rublev went on to break Goffin twice in the third set as he romped into the last eight.
“I don’t know exactly what was happening,” he admitted. “I feel he had some problem with the knee then I feel a little bit more relaxed because I know now it just depends on me that if I play good I am going to win this match and this is what happened.”
Looking ahead at facing Nadal, he added: “He’s the real champion. I’m just going to enjoy it. It’s the quarterfinals and I have nothing to lose.”
Success for the Russian teenager, ranked 53, would mean him becoming the youngest semifinalist since Nadal in 2005 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2000.
And Nadal expects him to give him a tough match. “Of course, he’s young, and when you are young you feel that everything is new,” said the 15-time grand slam champion “But he already won a lot of matches on the tour. He’s not a kid that he came now in this event. Of course not. He’s on the tour for a while. He’s playing well. He’s a solid player on the tour.”