US Open | Nadal’s progress is getting tougher
After battling for nearly four and a half hours to beat Karen Kahchanov on Friday, Rafa Nadal was forced into another marathon by a battling Nikoloz Basilashvili who kept him on court for over three hours. Then the world No.1 finally defeated the Georgian 6-3 6-3 6-7(6) 6-4 to continue his progress to the final where he hopes to successfully defend his title.
But that run isn’t being made easy for the Spaniard who next faces Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, one of only three players to have beaten him this year and then possibly Juan Martin del Potro in the semis.
“It’s a big victory for me,” the 32-year-old Nadal, the US Open champion in 2010, 2013 and 2017 said following his victory. “He was hitting the ball very strong and when I thought I was in control of the points, he always came back with strong shots.”
Basilashvili, the world No. 37, was playing in his first fourth round at a grand slam event and had only won a single game against defending champion in their previous meeting.
Nadal had to have his knee strapped during his battle with Khachanov signalling that perhaps his old problems might be returning but fans will be delighted to see that the strapping didn’t make an appearance on this occasion.
“Two matches in a row very tough ones. I had a big chance at the beginning of the third, if I make that break, maybe things will be different.
“I think I played a good tie-break, but he played fantastic. A lot of credit to him. I’m very happy to be through. It’s a big victory for me because of what happened two days ago. The physical issue was there of course, but I feel good.”
Looking ahead to his meeting with Thiem, he added: “He’s a fantastic player. He’s a very powerful player. He’s a great guy. I have a very good relationship with him.
“It’s going to be a tough one. He knows how to play these kind of matches. I need to play my best match of the tournament if I want to keep having chances to stay in the tournament.
“Thiem is a great opponent, he has the big serve and he had a big win today against Kevin.
“Now is the moment to make the next step, step forward, play more aggressive. I did a lot of things well during the whole season. It’s the moment to make it happen again. I hope to be ready to make that happen.”
Making the final of the French Open where he lost to Nadal, remains the Austrian’s best result at grand slam level, and clay remains his best surface.
Thiem, who turns 25 on Monday, had reached the fourth round previously in all other majors outside the French losing every time, so his 7-5 6-2 7-6(2) victory over last year’s finalist at Flushing Meadows can be seen as a major breakthrough for him.
Last year he nearly got through that barrier but failed to convert two match points in a five setter when playing Del Potro for a place in the last eight.
He is now the first Austrian to reach that stage at the US Open since Thomas Muster in 1996 and thinks that his first meeting against Nadal on a hardcourt might prove more positive for him.
“Against Rafa, I’ve had three very nice experiences and seven horrible experiences,” said Thiem, the ninth seed. “On clay, it’s one of the biggest challenges in sports to beat this guy. I hope that it’s a little bit more comfortable on hard court, but I’m not sure.”
Should Thiem prove successful, he will be facing the man who ousted him last year, Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Champion who beat Borna Coric 6-4 6-3 6-1 to make the quarter-finals for a third successive year.
And the Argentine is in excellent form having made the last eight without dropping a set at this year’s event and firing 33 winners during his comfortable fourth round win. The 21-year-old Coric, though, was somewhat hampered by a right thigh injury and generally unhappy with the humidity on Arthur Ashe.
“I think to win in straight sets every match is important for the body, for the legs, for the physical condition. But in the end every match is a new battle, and you must be 100 per cent for that moment,” DelPo commented as he started to prepare for his next opponent, the big serving John Isner. “It doesn’t matter if I win in three sets or five sets, in the next round it will be a new match.”
He will face John Isner for a place in the semi-final after the American beat Milos Raonic 3-6 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-2 in three hours and nine minutes.
“But every round is a battle. I just hope to keep my level high against John in the next match,” DelPo concluded.
Isner is the last American standing in the men’s draw and local hopes are high for him to become the first home grown winner since Andy Roddick in 2003. He beat the Canadian and in so doing, took his aces tally during the event past the 100 mark. It’s also marks his first appearance in the last eight in seven years.
Isner, the 11th seed, said: “There were a lots of ups and downs in the match. The atmosphere was like a jungle.”
The 33-year-old, who will become a father for the first time in two weeks, said he will not fear Del Potro even though he has lost to the Argentine star seven times in 11 meetings.
Their most recent clash saw DelPo triumph in straight sets in the fourth round at this year’s Roland Garros.
“Why not me? Let’s keep going,” said Isner after firing 56 winners past Raonic and 20 aces taking his ace count to a tournament-leading 112.
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