Two Next Gen players nearly pulled off dramatic victories but in the process, showed they are more than willing if not extremely eager, to start replacing the established generation of players who are stubbornly refusing to let go of their positions.
Karen Khachanov gave the world No.1 Rafa Nadal, a real fright as he pushed and bullied the top seed for four-hours and 23-minutes before conceding a place in the fourth round to him 5-7 7-5 7-6(7) 7-6(3).
For me personally, it was a physical, demanding match. It was mentally demanding. Rafa Nadal
In addition, Denis Shapovalov made last year’s runner-up at Flushing Meadows work hard to maintain his challenge in his attempt to not only repeat last year’s feat but go one better. Kevin Anderson did eventually succeed with a 4-6 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-4 victory.
Apart from the two youngsters showing their mettle and providing proof that they are on their way up, the two matches had another thing in common. The roof of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium was closed for the first time during the Armstrong match and was also closed during Nadal’s when rain appeared towards the end of the second set.
How close did Nadal come to defeat? The 22-year-old Khachanov served for a two- sets to love lead in the 10th game of the second set and had a set point in the fourth-set tiebreaker but the well-known Spaniard’s resilience saw him survive the pressures as he chased his 18th major and fourth US Open title.
“Karen played well. He’s improving always. He’s young. He has everything. I really see him winning a lot of matches in his career,” said Nadal after reaching round four at Flushing Meadows for a 10th time. “For me personally, it was a physical, demanding match. It was mentally demanding.”
Khachanov, 22 and bidding to make the last 16 of a Slam for the third time this year, took the opener while Nadal, who converted just one of five break points in the set, eventually needed strapping to support his right knee which he received at the end of the set.
“I am going to be at 100% for the next match,” Nadal affirmed when asked if his knees were starting to give him trouble again.
“I gave everything I had. Just a few points difference and it could go another way. Big respect to Rafa. That’s why he’s No. 1, such a great fighter,” Khachanov said following the gruelling contest.
Responding to Nadal’s praise of him, he added: “It feels great. Thanks to him. He’s always polite and nice guy. Big respect to him. He’s a great champion.
“Of course, it feels good. After a match like this when you give everything, okay, you didn’t win, but I think it can give me a lot of experience, confidence, what else you can say just to keep going this way, and hopefully, it will bring me to where I want to be.”
“I’m not the happiest guy in the world — I lost the match! But after some time, maybe one day, two days, I will think back and just watch the match.
“Of course, it will give me I think more experience, like I said, more confidence. To see which level I can play, which level I played here and the other Grand Slams or the other tournaments.
“That just shows that I’m really close to this high level against top guys. Hopefully, it will be soon on my side.
“He had the chances, opportunities. I had opportunities. Just a very close match, good match. I hope people enjoyed, especially first time for me on Arthur Ashe. The atmosphere was amazing.”
Khachanov, the world No.26, had never previously taken a set off Nadal in their three previous meetings but believes there is a lot to learn from his latest showdown with the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
He added: “This time was actually positive. I won one set against him. The other matches I didn’t. I think I played better. I’m improving my game. Like I said, I played better.”
Nadal now goes on to face the world No. 37 Nikoloz Basilashvili for a place in the quarter-finals, the Georgian having reached the last-16 of a Slam for the first time by eliminating Argentina’s Guido Pella 6-3 6-4 1-6 7-6(4).
Meanwhile Anderson, following his win over Shapovalov, remarked that playing in the Louis Armstrong Stadium was like playing in a ‘coliseum’. “Constant noise going on the whole time,” he said after his second five-setter in three rounds.
Shapovalov meanwhile was delighted at having experienced the noisy atmosphere. “I just feel like I belong out there this year,” he said. “I’m able to compete with anyone out there, as I showed today. I feel like my game is at a different level.”
The fifth seed from South Africa next faces ninth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem, who made the last 16 for the fourth time in five years with a 3-6 6-3 7-6(5) 6-4 victory over American Taylor Fritz.
In another four-setter, John Isner, the last American man standing, fired 34 aces, 85 winners and saved three break points to beat Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 7-6(8) 6-7(6) 6-3 7-5 and goes on to take on Milos Raonic who put out 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka 7-6(6) 6-4 6-3.
Finally, the Croatian 20th seed, Borna Coric made the last 16 of a Slam for the first time with a 6-3 7-5 6-2 victory over Russia’s Daniil Medvedev while Juan Martin del Potro continued his run by defeating Fernando Verdasco 7-5 7-6(6) 6-3.