US Open, New York August 30-September 12, 2010; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Hard
Rafael Nadal captures the US Open title for the first time in his magnificent career, serving better than ever – he doesn’t drop his service until the third game of the quarter-final, having held 62 consecutive games. He becomes the fourth Open era player to win all majors… Novak Djokovic & Roger Federer tie a record (Courier vs. Agassi & Nadal vs. Federer) of four meetings in succession at one major event. The Serb finally makes a revenge – in dramatic fashion – after three defeats in a row.
Chasing his first U.S. Open championship, Rafael Nadal was so dominant, so determined, so defiant, his face curling into a sneer with every wallop of the ball. With two marvelous weeks at Flushing Meadows capped by victory in a thrilling final Monday night, Nadal fashioned an emphatic answer to all those questions about whether he could grab the only major trophy missing from his collection. Now owner of a career Grand Slam at age 24, champion at three consecutive major tournaments and nine overall, the No. 1-ranked Nadal is suddenly chasing something else: recognition as the greatest tennis player in history. Approaching perfection for stretches – the guy played more than 40 points in a row without making an unforced error – Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in a 3-hour 43-minute match filled with fantastic shot-making by both men and interrupted by a thunderstorm a day after it was postponed by rain. “For the first time in my career, I played a very, very good match in this tournament,” said Nadal, who never had been past the semifinals at Flushing Meadows. “That’s my feeling, no? I played my best match in the U.S. Open at the most important moment.” Once seen as Federer’s nemesis, Nadal has made his own greatness quite clear – and is more than halfway to Federer’s career record of 16 Grand Slam titles. Nadal’s total already is one more than Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi or Ivan Lendl won. It’s clear where Nadal stands on the matter. He said “talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid, because the titles say he’s much better than me.” Djokovic, understandably, had a different take on Nadal. “He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever,” said Djokovic, who lost the 2007 U.S. Open final to Federer, but upset him in Saturday’s semifinals. “I think [Nadal is] playing the best tennis that I’ve ever seen him play on hard courts. He has improved his serve drastically – the speed, the accuracy. And, of course, his baseline [game] is as good as ever.” Nadal is a year younger than Federer was when he got to No. 9, and about 3½ years younger than Federer was when he completed his career Grand Slam at the 2009 French Open. Nadal is the seventh man in history with at least one title from each of tennis’ four most important tournaments. Bjorn Borg was the only other man to have nine major championships by 24. “It’s too far; 16, for me, is too far to think about right now,” Nadal said, with his typical humility. “My goal, all my life, was the same: keep improving.” He takes that task seriously. When he started on tour his forehand was feared, his backhand wasn’t, so he worked on that. Then he got better at volleying. He says he decided a couple of days before the start of the U.S. Open to tweak the way he holds his racket to serve. That added zip to his serves, now regularly faster than 130 mph, which helps him earn some easy points – important given the way he hustles so much and hits so hard, those booming forehands looking like uppercuts. He won 106 of 111 service games in the tournament, a key reason he finally came through in New York. Everyone, even Nadal himself, used to try to explain why he kept leaving the U.S. Open without a trophy, why it was the only Grand Slam tournament he hadn’t conquered. “The hard court,” he said, “always was the most difficult surface… for me.” Here’s how the thinking went: his grinding style exhausts him. The wind plays havoc with his spin-lathered strokes. The courts are too hard and too fast. The balls are too soft. And so on. Seems sort of silly, huh? “Now no one can say he can’t win here,” said Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach. “It’s very important for us to know that Rafael has learned so much, because players said Rafa could never win on hard courts, because he played too much topspin [or] he’s too physical. And now I believe there’s not much that the players he plays against can argue with.” Well put. Nadal is first left-hander to win the U.S. Open since John McEnroe in 1984, and the first Spaniard since Manuel Orantes(left-hander too) in 1975. Nadal first burst onto the scene as the so-called King of Clay, compiling a record 81-match winning streak on that surface and starting his French Open career 31-0. His five titles at Roland Garros have earned him accolades as the best clay-court player in history, but now he has become so much more. He won on the grass at Wimbledon in 2007, edging Federer 9-7 in the fifth set as darkness descended, then again this year. He won on the hard courts at the Australian Open in 2009, again besting Federer in five sets. All that was left was the U.S. Open. After complaining of fatigue in 2008, coming off his gold medal from the Beijing Olympics, then dealing with bad knees and a torn abdominal muscle in 2009, he set out to make this trip to Flushing Meadows different. He curtailed his schedule a bit in the spring, to save some wear and tear. He took extra time off after Wimbledon, getting treatment on his knees and skipping the Davis Cup quarterfinals. It all worked. Nadal only had one blip all tournament: the 2nd set Monday evening. Perhaps bothered by some pro-Djokovic supporters yelling between serves – earning an admonishment from the chair umpire – Nadal fell behind 3:1 by making four mistakes, including a double-fault, to get broken at love. When Nadal pushed a backhand long to close a 19-shot point, 2008 Australian Open champion Djokovic screamed, “Come on!” It was part of a run of 11 consecutive points for Djokovic, who went ahead 4:1*. As quickly as Nadal lost his way, however, he gathered himself, his strokes gaining steam, his footwork as good as ever. A violent backhand on a 23-stroke exchange allowed Nadal to break back, and he held to 4-all, which is when there was a two-hour rain delay. Djokovic took that set – the only one of 22 played by Nadal in New York this year that he lost. He came oh-so-close to being the first man in a half-century to win this tournament without dropping a set. “Nadal… is just proving each day, each year, that he’s getting better. That’s what’s so frustrating, a little bit. He’s getting better each time you play him,” Djokovic said. “He’s so mentally strong and dedicated to this sport. He has all the capabilities, everything he needs, in order to be the biggest ever.” Nadal stretched his Grand Slam winning streak to 21 matches by adding the U.S. Open to his titles at the French Open in June, then Wimbledon in July. No man had won those three tournaments in the same year since Rod Laver won a true Grand Slam in 1969. Now Nadal heads to the Australian Open in January with a chance to claim a ‘Rafa Slam’ of four consecutive major championships – something that also hasn’t been done since Laver. Djokovic, who overtakes Federer at No. 2 in the rankings this week, made Nadal earn it. The Serb played superbly for long stretches, showing off terrific returning, retrieving and a big forehand. Coming out of the rain delay with Djokovic serving at 4-all, 30-all in the 2nd set, both players clearly benefited from a bit of rest. Fresh of body and clear of mind, and with conditions perfect for tennis – calm and cool, the temperature in the 70s – they were superb, engaging in 10-, 15-, 20-stroke points that drew standing ovations and camera flashes from the stands, no matter who hit the winner. And there were winners aplenty at both ends – 49 by Nadal, 45 by Djokovic – as well as point-extending defense, sneakers squeaking as they scurried around the court. The key, perhaps, was this: Nadal made only two unforced errors in the 4th set. It’s not as though he was playing safe, either, cranking up his ground-strokes and aiming for the lines. Nadal was back to his relentless best in the third and fourth, hitting shots so well that Djokovic was moved to applaud on occasion. A drop volley here; a running backhand passing winner there; most delivered with a sneer. Nadal broke for 2:1 leads in each of those last two sets. As the finish line approached, Toni Nadal kept putting his palms down and motioning to his nephew to keep calm. That he did, arriving at match point by sprinting to reach a drop shot and whipping a forehand that landed right on the baseline. When Djokovic hit a forehand wide to end it second later, Nadal fell backward onto the court with a shout. He rolled onto his stomach, and placed his forehand on his arms, savoring the moment. About a half-hour later, the 2010 U.S. Open champion carried his shiny new trophy into the player garden outside Arthur Ashe Stadium. His uncle followed, toting a bottle of champagne in each hand. A couple of dozen relatives and friends gathered around, sipping the bubbly and taking photos. Like a family picnic, only not at a neighborhood park, but at the biggest Grand Slam tennis arena there is. Amid the celebration, Toni Nadal was asked where his nephew stands in the tennis pantheon. “The best of all time Federer, Borg, Laver. They’re the best. Rafael is very far away from those guys. Rafael is a good player. I think he’s a very good player,” Uncle Toni said. “But I don’t know if he’s part of that group. Could he be, one day? ‘I don’t know,’ came the reply. Ask me in five or six years, and maybe I can say.” By then – if not sooner – maybe the rest of the world can, too. It was the first ‘Djodal’ match in 2010 (22nd overall), they met once again at the Year End Championships with Nadal as an easy victory, however, Djokovic tremendously raised his level in 2011 beating the Spaniard in all their six meetings. Stats of the final
Novak Djokovic saved two match points on his way to a stunning win over Roger Federer in the US Open semi-finals (incredible: he’ll beat Federer in the US Open ’11 semifinals saving two match points in the fifth set again!). The Serbian, seeded third, won an extraordinary match 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 to end Federer’s run of six consecutive finals at Flushing Meadows. Despite having lost to the Swiss for the last three years running in New York, including in the 2007 final, the 23-year-old proved to have the stronger nerve in the closing stages on Saturday. That had not appeared likely when he let an early *4:2 lead slip in the 1st set, all but handing it to Federer by dropping serve to love in game 11. But Federer was playing well below the level he found in defeating Soderling in the quarter-finals, with his serve particularly fragile, and Djokovic broke twice on his way to levelling the match. A tense 3rd set looked to be heading for a tie-break until Djokovic suffered a meltdown in the closing stages, smacking his head with his racket in frustration before losing the last seven points in a row. Again, Federer could not build on his advantage, and a backhand pass from Djokovic in game three of the 4th put the Serbian in control before, in a repeat of the second set, he got the double-break to force a decider. In a dramatic final set of shifting fortunes, extravagant winners and unexpected errors, Djokovic held his game together much the better of the two men. That seemed like it would count for little at 4:5 when he slipped to 15/40 and two match points down on serve, but the third seed found a fantastic drive-volley and a brilliant forehand down the line to get out of trouble. Federer was clearly rattled and, moments later, three forehand errors left Djokovic serving for the match. The Serb had to recover from 0/30 and fought off a break-back point with some aggressive play before finally earning a match point of his own, and watching as Federer made his 21st unforced error of the set to see his six-year run of finals come to an end. “It was just a big pleasure playing in this kind of match,” said Djokovic after the 3-hour 44-minute battle. “It’s one of those matches you’ll always remember in your career. I’m just so thrilled to be in the final.” He added: “To be honest I was just closing my eyes and hitting forehands as fast as I can on the match points. If it goes in, it goes in. If it goes out, you know, another loss to Federer in the US Open. I managed to come back. I was very lucky.” Federer admitted that he too had been looking forward to playing Nadal at Flushing Meadows for the first time: “Now one point away from this happening, obviously it’s a bit of disappointment. But just being there [in the final] and losing, that wouldn’t have been nice either. Now we’ll never know how it would have gone. I would have loved to play against him here. I mean, I did my hard yards the last six years making it to the finals, and he was unfortunately never there.”Rafael Nadal dismissed Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his first career final at the US Open. Nadal could become the sixth man in the post-1968 Open era to reach the final of all four Grand Slams. The New York event is the only one of the majors that eight-time Grand Slam champion Nadal has not won. “This is a dream, I’m gonna play the final for the first time on the biggest centre court of world,” said Nadal. “I’ve tried my best here for a lot of years and after the work I’m in the final. It feels like home here, it’s unbelievable. This win was important for my confidence. Maybe Mikhail was a bit more tired after playing longer matches than I had.” Nadal dominated 12th seed Youzhny as he earned revenge for a 2006 loss in New York to the Russian, who played his only other Grand Slam semi that year. Nadal now stands 11-3 in final-four matches at the majors. Nadal becomes the first Spanish finalist at the event since Juan Carlos Ferrero, who lost to Andy Roddick in 2003. Nadal won his 20th match in a row at a Grand Slam after taking titles at Roland Garros (his fifth) and Wimbledon (his second) this season. The Spaniard stormed through over Youzhny to take an 8-4 lead in their series, winning five of their last six matches dating to 2007. Nadal required a re-taping early in the second set after going about his lethal business with two breaks of the Russian in the opening set to take the lead. The top-seed entered the match without having dropped a set and had lost just one service game from 77 prior to Saturday. Youzhny was unable to rally, with Nadal earning a break for 5:3 in the 2nd set and claiming the runaway lead a game later as he set up three set points with only his second ace. Nadal lost serve for only his second time when Youzhny broke for 4-all in the 3rd set before losing his lead a game later. Youzhny admitted: “I cannot say I’m really tired, but I was not fast enough today. My decision-making was not really fast. I was moving well, but my head was one step behind my hand and my legs.”
At the start, Rafael Nadal would say later, he was “scared” by the wind. He actually lost a service game. After one error, he slapped himself on the thigh. After another, he put his hands on his hips and stared at the spot where his shot went awry. By the end, Nadal was as good as ever, even hitting a spinning, no-look half-volley as he moved one step closer to the only Grand Slam title he hasn’t won. The top-seeded Nadal quickly figured out how to handle the wind that has plagued the tournament, got his serve in gear after being broken for the only time in five matches and beat No. 8 Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday night in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in U.S. Open history. Now Nadal heads to a third consecutive semifinal at Flushing Meadows. He lost in that round to Murray in 2008 and to eventual champion Del Potro in 2009; he has never been to a U.S. Open final. “Right now, for me, it’s a very, very nice feeling to be in [the] semifinals for the third time in a row, for one of the most important tournaments in the world,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “For me, probably right now, the most important.” “It’s another time, and I’m, like, another player,”Mikhail Youzhny said referring to his previous US Open semifinal in 2006. “I cannot say I am [a] better player now, but it’s another time and other opponent, so everything can happen.” He hit fewer aces and fewer winners, needed treatment on his right foot in the fifth set – and still managed to come back and beat No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in exactly 4 hours earlier Thursday. “Maybe I was just a bit luckier than him,” Youzhny said. The last time Nadal and Verdasco met at a Grand Slam tournament, in the 2009 Australian Open semifinals, they set a tournament record by playing for 5 hours, 14 minutes. Thursday’s match lasted less than 2½ hours, in part because Nadal played so cleanly, making only 16 unforced errors; Verdasco made 41. Verdasco called it “impossible” to play the aggressive tactics he needs to use “to have chances to beat Rafa.” The outcome was basically settled in the 6th game of the 2nd set, when Nadal broke to lead 4:2 with a delicate-as-can-be drop volley that Verdasco barely reached and couldn’t get in play. Nadal jumped and punched the air and had to know there was no longer any chance of the sort of upset Youzhny pulled off four years ago. Nothing seemed to rattle Youzhny on Thursday. He dealt with a deficit (saved mini-set point at 4-all in the 2nd set, no set points for Wawrinka in the tie-break), a problem with his right foot and the wind that made it tough to control strokes – Wawrinka made 71 unforced errors, Youzhny 57. That helped Youzhny overcome Wawrinka’s advantages in aces (13-2) and winners (48-35). Both men won 154 points. Youzhny was also never rattled by all the noise going on near the court as Wawrinka was supported exuberantly by his entourage. On pretty much every significant point won by Wawrinka, the black-clad, sunglasses-wearing bunch in his guest box would stand up, applaud, yell and trade fist bumps. The celebrations were led from the front row by Wawrinka’s coach, Peter Lundgren – who used to work with Federer and helped him win his first Wimbledon championship… On this evening, certainly, Roger Federer was back to his old self. Back to beating Robin Soderling and back to being a Grand Slam semifinalist – two things he used to do as a matter of course. Treating the whipping wind and his familiar foe as only slight nuisances, 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer served his way to a convincing 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory over the fifth-seeded Soderling in the U.S. Open quarterfinals Wednesday night. “I’ve been practicing my serve a whole lot, for my whole career. If I can’t serve in the wind, I’ve got a problem, you know?” said Federer, who had an 18-2 edge in aces against the big-hitting Soderling. “You could probably wake me up at 2 in the morning or 4 in the morning, and I could hit a few serves.” “You never know what’s going to happen,” 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovicsaid referring to fourth consecutive match against Federer in New York, after beating 17th-seeded Gael Monfils 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2 earlier Wednesday. “I don’t want to think about those losses in the last three years, which were really, really close.”Djokovic started against Monfils with a *1:3 (deuce) deficit, but once he broke first time in the 6th game, he never looked back. All of the day’s matches were filled with wind that gusted at up to 30 mph, sending all sorts of debris – brown napkins, plastic bags, players’ towels – rolling on the court like tumbleweed, forcing points to be stopped and repeatedly making players catch their ball tosses. “When it gets windy, I don’t struggle much,” Federer said. “I don’t panic.” The last time Federer and Soderling played was on a dreary, rainy day in Paris, and the 6’4 Soderling – he’s three inches taller than Federer – used his strong forehand and serve to great effect, driving winners through the thick weather and pounding 14 aces. On Wednesday, in contrast, Soderling didn’t hit his first ace of the evening until the 143rd point of the match, nearly 1 ½ hours in, earning a smattering of sarcastic cheers from some fans in the sellout crowd of 23,718. By that time, Federer already had 15 aces, including three in a row in one game.
Fourth round: (AP)
Fernando Verdasco sprinted toward the drop shot, slid on the concrete and barely got to the ball – then whipped it around the net post and back inside the sideline. For a clean winner. On match point. In a fifth-set tiebreaker. What a way to celebrate “Spain Day” at the U.S. Open. One of the best matches of the tournament ended with arguably the best shot of the tournament – Verdasco’s winner in a 5-7, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over No. 10 David Ferrer in the first of two all-Spanish match-ups Tuesday night at Flushing Meadows. The match lasted 4 hours, 23 minutes and showcased the country’s tennis at its best. Verdasco trailed *2:4 in the 5th set and 1:4* in that tiebreaker before rallying for only his second career victory when trailing by two sets. “Just fighting,” Verdasco said. “And don’t think too much about first two sets and just trying all the time.” For his efforts, Verdasco will play No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in U.S. Open history after Nadal beat Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Waiting to go on court for their fourth-round match, Nadal and Lopez watched on TV in the locker room as their Davis Cup teammates played out the end of their classic. “I’m happy for Fernando, but at the same time sorry for David, because he deserved to win, too, no?” Nadal said. His surge to the top of tennis has helped Spain produced six men in the world’s top 25. Nadal’s at the top of the list. The fact that he’s getting pushed by players in his own country hasn’t escaped notice this week. “Clearly, Rafa and Verdasco are Spain’s best athletes,” said American Mardy Fish after he, too, was bounced Monday. “Obviously, soccer is their biggest sport, but tennis is right there. I mean, Nadal is arguably the biggest sporting athlete they’ve ever had.” With another straight-set victory out of the way at the U.S. Open, Roger Federer can start thinking about a rematch with Soderling. Five-time champion Federer beat 13th-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3 Monday night to reach the quarterfinals at a 26th Grand Slam tournament in a row and set up an intriguing match-up. Melzer & Federer couldn’t meet on tour playing in the same tournaments over 10 year, and out of a sudden it’s been their second clash in second consecutive major!“He’s always been a dangerous player,” Federer said in an on-court interview. “This is obviously a tough draw for me in the quarters, playing Robin.” “I wasn’t happy with my fortune. Let’s put it that way,” Melzer said later. Federer’s take? “Tiebreakers are always crucial,” he said. Recovering quickly from that, Melzer broke serve to open the 3rd set. But his 1:0 lead lasted only briefly, because Federer broke right back to 1-all, then again to go ahead 5:2*. Federer’s domination followed that of Novak Djokovic. The third-seeded Serb routed No. 19-seeded American Mardy Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday, sapping the energy from both his opponent and nearly packed Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic, eying his third straight U.S. Open semifinal, will play No. 17 Gael Monfils in the quarters. Earlier, Monfils beat fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. Against Gasquet, Monfils fought off a set point at *4:5 in the 2nd set, and another two at *4:5 (15/40) in the 3rd. Since a five-set scare in the first round, Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set. Against Fish, who has played two five-setters in addition to doubles over the first week, the Serb was the better, fresher player. “I’m playing with a lot of confidence,” Djokovic said. “It’s definitely great to raise the level of performance toward the end of the tournament. It’s been a great couple years for me in New York. Hopefully, I can go on.” Monfils, who has long professed his love for New York, got the crowd in Armstrong Stadium behind him to close out his win over Gasquet in straight sets. “He [doesn’t] like to see the opponent show emotions,” Monfils said. “Just play with that, play a bit with his mind, and that was it.”Robin Soderling advanced earlier Monday by eliminating No. 21 Albert Montanes of Spain 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Third encounter of these two players at majors within a year with the Swede as a 4-set victor every time. Looking ahead, Soderling said: “It’s always a very nice feeling to play against the world’s best. It’s matches like that you train for. It’s matches like that I’ve been dreaming of playing since I started playing tennis – playing at the big courts in the big tournaments. It’s very fun.” All year, as he has lost before reaching the quarterfinals of Grand Slam events, Sam Querrey has had to answer the same question: what is wrong with American men’s tennis? It’s not as if he knows, and it’s tough to bear the burden of an entire federation, and frankly, it’s tiring. “A little bit, yes,” Querrey said. “I got the same question all summer.” But he sat through it again. As the last American standing in the men’s draw, the 22-year-old Querrey fell to Stanislas Wawrinka late Tuesday afternoon at Arthur Ashe Stadium, losing 6-7(9), 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4, 4-6. In this dramatic fourth-round match, ‘Stan the Man’ saved set point in the 1st tie-break at 7:8, and he erased a 1:3 deficit in the 3rd set; Querrey in turn, whitstood four set points on return in the 2nd set. It was hard for Querrey to take on the disappointment of an entire country, not to mention the disappointment of letting himself down. “I was pretty sad in the locker room for a little while,” Querrey said. “I mean, I don’t feel that great right now. You know, pretty tired. My body is tired.” Querrey had difficulty controlling his first serves during some of the big moments. In the first-set tie-break, Querrey hit only three of 10 and lost the set on a Wawrinka service winner. Querrey got more than half of those serves in during the second-set tie-break and hit a 130 mph ace up the tee to win the second. The Swiss player didn’t use his challenges all that judiciously, and used his fourth and final one on a first serve in the second set. He was awarded another during the second-set tie-break and lost that one as well. In the deciding set, a trainer came out to retape Wawrinka’s left thigh. As for questions of Querrey’s fitness, he seemed to cramp after hitting a phenomenal passing cross-court forehand to stave off a break point for a 3:2 lead in the 5th. Querrey later said the cramping wasn’t extreme and didn’t affect his game too much. But as the last moments of the match approached, play deteriorated. Both players started hitting shorter balls, dinking it over without using their legs. “The last four games, he changed his game because he was tired,” Wawrinka said. As Querrey rose to serve at 4:5, an energized Wawrinka danced at the baseline. He forced a match point with an improbable cross-court passing shot, but a missed lob forced the game to ‘deuce’. Wawrinka finally won the match on a backhand cross-court volley.
Third round: (ESPN)
The fourth-seeded Andy Murray, expected by many to make a deep run at this year’s U.S. Open, instead made his second straight earlier-than-expected exit from Flushing Meadows – losing to No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss player wasted a *5:3 (30/0) in the 1st set, but rallied from a break at 3:5* (30-all) in the 2nd set for a 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 upset – a loss certain to be picked apart by the tennis-loving fans back home. “I have no idea of whether I’ll win a Grand Slam or not,” Murray said. “I want to. But if I never win one, then what? If I give 100 percent, try my best, physically work as hard as I can, practice as much as I can, then that’s all I can do.” He was a popular pick this year, based on trips to the finals at Flushing Meadows two years ago and this year’s Australian Open, along with a championship in Montreal last month in which he beat both Nadal and Federer. Wawrinka’s upset was the only significant surprise on a day. “Probably the most difficult tournament for us, no?”Rafael Nadal said after beating Gilles Simon of France 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. “So that is very important news for Spanish tennis.”referring to further advancement of other Spaniards. “He played better than me.” Now Wawrinka will attempt to solve the serve of 20th-seeded American Sam Querrey, who hit 19 aces at up to 137 mph and never was broken by 14th-seeded Nicolas Almagro on Sunday, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. “He’s very dangerous on this surface,” Almagro said. “He’s in top form right now.” At the 2009 U.S. Open, zero U.S. men reached the quarterfinals for the first time in the history of an event that began in 1881. This time, of 15 Americans that entered the tournament, there are two who are still around for the fourth round – Querrey and No. 19 Fish – after No. 18 John Isner lost to No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-7(7), 7-6(5), 6-4 despite hitting 33 aces Sunday night. Isner, best known for winning the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon in June, got broken early in each of the first two sets, then was down 5:1 in the 2nd, before making things interesting. But Youzhny came up with one of his five aces to end the 3rd-set tiebreaker, then broke the 6-foot-9 Isner again early in the 4th. Youzhny heads to the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the first time since he was a semifinalist in 2006. Isner said he didn’t think he paid any price physically at Flushing Meadows for all the wear-and-tear his body took at the All England Club during the longest match in tennis history. “I don’t think tonight had anything to do with that match, I would say,” Isner said. What Isner did concede might have hampered him was injuring his right ankle last month during a hard-court tournament in Cincinnati. “I’m not the fastest guy out there, but I didn’t feel as explosive. My legs I think just didn’t have the bend that I needed to on my serve, on my groundstrokes,” he said. “I mean, I wasn’t dealt the greatest hand coming into this tournament with really no preparation. So that maybe had something to do with it.” Youzhny stated: “Of course, you understand [there] will be aces. But [here’s the] main point: if you have some chances, try to take these chance, because [there] will not be too many chances.” When Andy Roddick – the American who won the 2003 U.S. Open – briefly dropped to 11th in August, it was the first time since the rankings began in 1973 that there were no U.S. men in the top 10. That alone was enough to cue a new chorus of questions about the state of the game in a nation that produced Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. “I mean, you always hear that,” said Querrey, who grew up in California but now lives in Las Vegas. “It’s kind of like any sport. You’ve got waves where you’ll have a group of Americans in the top 10; you might have a couple years where we don’t. It’s like with the Lakers: they’ll win some championships, and [then] they won’t make the playoffs. It’s just like that.” With Sunday’s five Spaniards joining No. 21 Albert Montanes, who won Saturday, that country has six members of the last 16 – tying the record for a country other than the United States at the U.S. Open. “It’s always nice to see all the Spanish winning and being in the last rounds, no?” said Fernando Verdasco, who eliminated 2002 Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian of Argentina 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. David Ferrer beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain 7-6(2), 6-2, 6-2; the opponents of Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez retired during their matches. Roger Federer overcame three break points in the final game to close out a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu. “The wind, it was so hard,” said Federer, in search of his sixth U.S. Open title. “I’m really relieved I’m through.” The second-seeded Federer had 13 aces and no double-faults. He fought off all four break points on his serve. Federer is 5-0 in his career against Mathieu. The 109th-ranked Mathieu matched his best showing at the U.S. Open by reaching the third round. Novak Djokovic reached the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the fourth consecutive year, eliminating American wild card James Blake in straight sets. The third-seeded Djokovic beat Blake 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-3. The Serb made only 13 unforced errors – 18 fewer than the American. “It’s a big mental struggle, when you have such a strong wind, to find a way how to try to play good tennis,” Djokovic said, “especially if you have somebody across the net who is so aggressive, taking everything early and playing a risky game.” Blake is a two-time quarter-finalist at Flushing Meadows, but not since 2006. Once ranked in the top five, the 30-year-old Blake is now 108th after a series of injuries and poor results, and he said he plans to take the next six weeks off. As for his longer-term future in the sport, the 30-year-old Blake said that he aims to play in the 2011 U.S. Open and hopes Saturday night’s match wasn’t his last in Arthur Ashe. “If it was, you know, I competed my heart out. I did everything I could,” Blake said. “But I think I got more in me, and I think I’m going to be back there. Maybe more night matches, some more excitement for the crowds, some more good times. You know, I definitely believe that. I hope it comes true next year.”Mardy Fish had to work a little harder Saturday, needing five sets to advance. The 19th-seeded Fish beat Arnaud Clement of France 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam for the first time since 2008 at Flushing Meadows. Fish dropped to his knees then saluted the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium after Clement’s last shot landed wide. The 68th-ranked Clement upset 16th-seeded Baghdatis in the first round. The 32-year-old was in the third round at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2005. After having knee surgery in September 2009, Fish set about changing his diet and trimming his body, and he’s lost more than 30 pounds to get down to about 170. “He’s playing maybe his best tennis at this moment,” Djokovic said. “He’s moving really well. He’s serving as good as he served always. He has a lot of talent. He’s recognizing the moment, coming to the net. He has a lot of variety in the game. I guess I have to be on the top of my game to be able to win.” Fifth-seeded Robin Soderling, twice a runner-up at the French Open, needed only 1 hour, 42 minutes at blustery Flushing Meadows to defeat 48th-ranked Thiemo de Bakker 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. After struggling through a five-setter in the opening round, the Swede has only dropped 16 games over his next two matches. Gael Monfils of France beat Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4. The 17th-seeded Monfils reached the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows for the third straight year but has never advanced farther. Asked to describe the weather, Monfils said: “Awful. I mean, for me: awful.” Monfils had 17 aces and 56 winners. Also Saturday, Richard Gasquet backed up his win over No. 6 Davydenko with a straight-set victory over Kevin Anderson. No. 13 Jurgen Melzer beat 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. Ferrero’s last match in 2010.
Second round: Thomas Kaplan
It was painful to watch at times, but Kei Nishikori‘s 5-7, 7-6(6), 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-1 victory over No. 11 Marin Cilic was a pretty incredible result (Court No. 13). The match came in a minute short of five hours (fifth longest match in the US Open history #), an insane amount of time to be playing on a scorching hot afternoon. “It was hot today,” Nishikori said afterward. “But you know, feeling good now.” The 6’6” Croat had a good chance to take a two-set lead as both players held from start to finish en route to a 2nd-set tiebreaker: Cilic led 2:0 and regained the advantage at 6:5, but Nishikori survived a set point by capping off a brutal rally with a perfect volley winner. Two points later, the qualifier took the 77-minute set and evened the match. Cilic earned the 3rd set by converting his lone break chance, and he looked poised for a four-set win when he battled back from a *1:4 (15/40) deficit in the 4th set. The No. 11 seed had a mini-match point at 4-all, then managed to force a tiebreaker and he again took a 2:0 lead, but Nishikori won seven of the next eight points to extend the proceedings. Having missed an opportunity to bring a merciful and victorious end to the battle, Cilic ran out of gas in the decider. Both players were struggling physically, but Nishikori had far more left in the tank than his opponent. Due to slowness of play and one medical timeout for Cilic, the 5th set took 49 minutes to complete despite lasting only seven games. Nishikori’s sixth break of the afternoon finally wrapped up the grueling affair. “It’s not easy to accept that you stayed on court for five hours, had chances, and then you’re done,” said Cilic. “It was physically very tough. The conditions were really tough. It was hot and it was very humid and it wasn’t easy to get the oxygen.” Both players didn’t look like they could move toward the end. It wasn’t pretty: Cilic made 93 unforced errors; Nishikori made 77. Each player served 13 aces (the Croat committed 12 double faults, one more than his Japanese opponent), Cilic lost despite winning 190 points to Nishikori’s 189… When Denis Istomin looks back at his second-round match against top-seeded Rafael Nadal, he will remember an exquisite skid mark. So will the new legion of fans he gained at the United States Open on Friday night. Nadal prevailed in straight sets, which was no surprise. But he did so only after an exhausting tie-breaker with the 23-year-old man from Uzbekistan who had the crowd behind him at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “He did well,” Nadal said after his 6-2, 7-6(5), 7-5 victory. “But I think I stayed very well mentally in that moment. I was playing with big calm and big concentration. And finally I was a little bit lucky – for sure.” It was the second time in as many rounds that Nadal had to work hard to advance. Nadal and Istomin put up a worthy fight on an unexpectedly rain-free evening in Flushing Meadows. They roared loudest in the 2nd-set tie-break, when in a seemingly endless rally Istomin lunged toward the net and poked a shot past Nadal, leaving a long, dark skid mark as a monument to the shot. That put Istomin up, 5:1 in the breaker, and the crowd quickly grew intoxicated with the possibility that this would be the night that the tournament’s top seed could meet an improbable demise. But then Nadal reminded them why he is the top seed. He reeled off six straight points – blasting his hardest serve of the night in the process – to win the tie breaker emphatically. And while Istomin clawed his way through the 3rd set, he could not fully recover, dropping the match after battling for 2 hours 44 minutes. An affable Ukrainian ranked No. 36 in the world, Sergiy Stakhovsky battled teenager Ryan Harrison  in the bandbox and understood, he said, why “99.9 percent” of the crowd was against him. Accompanied by ear-splitting cheers of “Go Ryan!” Harrison was on the verge of advancing to an improbable third-round berth. Instead, he squandered three match points in the fifth-set tie breaker and double-faulted to set up Stakhovsky’s match point. It was Stakhovsky who seized the moment and defeated his upstart opponent, 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) in 4 hours 13 minutes, to advance to the third round. When the rain from Hurricane Earl came and halted play for 30 minutes, Stakhovsky was up an early break in the 5th set, 2:1. Upon returning, Harrison seized the momentum, got the break back and stormed to a 6:3* lead in the tie breaker. Stakhovsky hit two big serves, and Harrison double-faulted for 6-all. Stakhovsky won the match on a crisp serve and a forehand volley winner. “All these guys that are playing this level,” Harrison said, “they do execute at the big moments.” Afterward, 18-year-old Harrison quickly shook hands, ignored Stakhovsky’s half-hug and hurried off the court, not stopping to sign autographs. “Obviously, I’m not the happiest person in the world right now,” Harrison said about 10 minutes later. “But looking back on it, it was a great experience.” John Isner, the Wimbledon Marathon Man, is the highest-seeded American remaining in the tournament at No. 18. He struggled with fatigue from his recent ankle injury, and while he managed to defeat Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, he could hear the not-so distant roar of the court next door. “Obviously when the crowd cheered, that was when Ryan won a point,” Isner said. “He has a huge future in this game.”Isner beat in four-setter Chiudinelli for the second time in 2010 saving a set point at *5:6 in the 3rd set tie-break (previously in Paris). Roger Federer overcame windy conditions to beat Andreas Beck 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 and reach the US Open third round as two leading names crashed out on day four. The five-time champion raced to 5:0* and finally took the 1st set after the lively German clawed back three games. Beck, ranked 104, kept battling but the world number two proved too strong. Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic managed to win in straight sets in the night session as he came through 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(6) against German Philipp Petzschner. “I was shaky the whole match but I was able to hold on,” said the 2007 finalist. The ninth-seeded Andy Roddick was unaggressive with his tennis but not with his emotions and he left the U.S. Open as a second-round upset loser to 44th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(4). Tipsarevic, a 26-year-old Serbian, is into the third round of the Open for the first time. Roddick won the tournament in 2003, but he seemed the one who was unfamiliar with the occasion of a rowdy night match. Roddick paced the baseline, twitching and angry after a 3rd-set foot-fault call that came in the 8th game with Roddick trailing, 2:5. While the call, made by a lineswoman and that replays showed was correct, caused Roddick to stalk the back of the court muttering to himself and shouting at chair umpire Enric Molina, it didn’t change what was happening. Roddick was being cautious and Tipsarevic, whose arm is covered with tattoos, was brave with his strategy, playing passing shots at just the right time, and calm in his demeanor. And at the end of the 3-hour 18-minute match, Tipsarevic had hit 66 winners to 40 by Roddick and restrained his feelings one last time. When Roddick praised Tipsarevic on the court, Tipsarevic said he wanted to give Roddick a big hug. “It was an emotional thing. But then it probably wouldn’t be good,” Tipsarevic said. “I think he’s a very nice guy. I mean, against an underdog on your stadium in front of your home crowd just saying nice words after being disappointed and losing, that brings up a big champion in him.”Tipsarevic defeated Roddick at Slams for the second time in very similar scoreline (previously 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 at Wimbledon ’08). That US Open victory, elevated Tipsarevic onto higher level – the Serb since then notched two best seasons of his career turning from a 40-60 ranked player into a Top 10er. Austrian Jurgen Melzer, the 13th seed, battled to a 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 win over 20-year-old Ricardas Berankis  of Lithuania. Berankis led 3:1* (30/30) in the 5th set; Melzer had been serving to win the 2nd set at 5:4. The Flushing Meadows crowd had much to cheer about on Louis Armstrong as 19th seed Mardy Fish, a recent finalist at the Cincinnati Masters, fired 14 aces on his way to an impressive 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 win over Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas. Fish trailed *3:5 in the 1st set, since then won 16 out of the next 18 games.
# Five longest matches in US Open history: 5:26(1992 – SF): Stefan Edberg d. Michael Chang 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 5:11(1993 – 3R): Richard Krajicek d. Todd Martin 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 5:09(2004 – 2R): Sargis Sargsian d. Nicolas Massu 6-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 5:01(1992 – 4R): Ivan Lendl d. Boris Becker 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 4:59(2010 – 2R): Kei Nishikori d. Marin Cilic 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1
First round: ESPN
Mardy Fish, enjoying the best period of his career (16-2 record entering the Open), has proudly modeled a 30-pounds-lighter body this summer. After he outlasted Jan Hajek, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1, Fish was asked what he thought when he sees pictures of himself from a couple of years ago. “I’ve seen them,” he replied. “I look at Stacey [his wife] sometimes and say, ‘What’s your problem? Why didn’t somebody tell me I looked like that?’ “Serving at up to 131 mph and saving the only break point he faced, Rafael Nadal began his bid to complete a career Grand Slam at this year’s U.S. Open by beating 93rd-ranked Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 7-6(4), 7-6(4), 6-3 in the first round Tuesday night. “My serve worked well. Hopefully, I’ll continue like this,” Nadal said. “My serve is not my best shot, but I always try hard to keep improving. I know if I want to have chances to win here – not just this year, but any year – I need to serve really well.” Asked if he’s been focusing on making his serve better this summer, Nadal replied with a smile: “All my life, I worked on my serve. Not this summer, no; all my life.” Novak Djokovic fought off the stifling heat and one of his Davis Cup teammates in a harder-than-expected first-round win at the U.S. Open on Tuesday. The third-seeded Serb beat countryman Viktor Troicki 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a 3-hour, 40-minute match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where temperatures reached the upper 90s on one of the hottest days in recent memory at Flushing Meadows. Both players were wobbling around the court by the time the match was over, and shade enveloped the court, offering a bit of relief on a day when the extreme heat rules went into effect for the women – allowing them a 10-minute break if they split sets – but the men were given no such reprieve. Djokovic, who has a reputation of struggling in the hottest conditions, trailed 1-2 in sets and was down a break in the 4th (*1:3, deuce), but came back. He got an early break in the fifth and served it out. “Somebody from the stands kept saying to me, ‘Hold on, try to hang in there,’ and that’s exactly what I did,” Djokovic said. On the men’s side, No. 23 Feliciano Lopez advanced, while No. 16 Marcos Baghdatis was the first seeded man to fall, 6-3, 2-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 to Arnaud Clement of France. Clement came back from a *1:3 deficit in the decider. The players were doing their best to take the heat in stride. “Tell you the truth, OK, it was hot, but, I mean, we play so many matches in the heat, I cannot tell you,” Baghdatis said when asked if his 3-hour, 27-minute stay in Armstrong Stadium was one of his hottest matches ever, “I cannot rank today’s heat.” Five-time champion Roger Federer got his US Open campaign off to a smooth start as he defeated Argentina’s Brian Dabul in the first round. The Swiss eased through 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the night session, with one spectacular through-the-legs winner in the third set thrilling the New York crowd. Federer goes on to face Germany’s Andreas Beck in the second round. Fifth seed Robin Soderling earlier survived a huge scare to beat Austrian qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer. The Swede suffered a mid-match collapse before regaining his focus to win 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(2), 5-7, 6-4. But 32nd seed Lleyton Hewitt lost 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 to Paul-Henri Mathieu. The Australian, who won the title in 2001, fought back from two sets down only for Frenchman Mathieu to dominate the decider and condemn Hewitt to a first-ever defeat in the opening round at Flushing Meadows. “I still believe I can improve as a player,” said Hewitt afterwards. “When I play my best tennis, like in Halle (in June, when he beat Federer and won the title), I still feel like I can match it with anyone.” Soderling is the highest-ranked player Federer could face before the semi-finals but he nearly crashed out at the hands of Haider-Maurer, a player ranked 214th in the world. The Austrian, whose most recent tournament was a Futures event on clay in Italy, made it through qualifying to reach the main draw but looked to be heading for a swift exit. Yet Soderling – with only two hard court victories to his name in the build-up to Flushing Meadows – wasted four match points in the 3rd set and he was almost made to pay. Haider-Maurer, making his Grand Slam debut and facing a top-10 opponent for the first time, began utilizing his booming serve to dominate the two-time French Open runner-up and finished with 34 aces to Soderling’s eight. But Soderling, who sent down 13 double faults, showed his experience in the fifth set to come through in 3 hours and 52 minutes. David Nalbandian has beaten better credentialed opponents and won bigger matches but rarely has he felt as satisfied as he did after a first round win over South African qualifier Rik De Voest at the US Open on Tuesday. His grinding 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-4 victory was not his best performance but the nearly four-hour match was a remarkable demonstration of resilience after 18 months on the sick list. The Argentine missed the last seven Grand Slams after undergoing hip surgery last year then suffered a series of unrelated injuries that stalled his comeback. Despite his problems, he was picked for Argentina’s Davis Cup team in July and went on to win the decisive fifth rubber in their quarter-final against Russia. A month later, he won an ATP Tour event in August and set his sights on the US Masters, where he was seeded 31st and drawn to play De Voest on one of the outside courts. If he was hoping for an easy return to Grand Slam tennis, he was disappointed. His match on Tuesday lasted one minute shy of four hours but the result was proof of his will to win. “It was good,” he said. “I didn’t play last year because of the injury… I’m just so happy to be here, I just try to be do my best all the time.“ Nalbandian squandered a match point at 6:5* in the tie-break, then came back from a *2:4 deficit in the 5th set. 34-year-old Rainer Schuettler lost third time within four tournaments serving to win a match. The German lost to 21-year-old qualifier  Benoit Paire 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(2) despite a comfortable *5:2 lead in the decider – in the following game on serve of the Frenchman, Schuettler led (30/0). Paire’s first main-level victory.