Denis Istomin had Rafael Nadal by the jugular in the second set tiebreak last night. Up 5-1 thanks to a scintillating stretch winner that ESPN2’s John McEnroe called one of the best points he had ever seen, Istomin looked to be well on his way to taking a set from the World No. 1.
But credit to Nadal because Istomin would not win another point in that breaker. Like we’ve seen Rafa do so many times he rose up to meet the challenge head on and he won. The guy is simply a beast.
That said, Nadal was once again pushed by a relatively lower tier player in a 6-2, 7-6(5), 7-5 win last night over Istomin.
“I probably got a little lucky in the second-set tiebreaker,” Nadal told the crowd after winning his 16th straight Grand Slam tennis match.
One thing that struck me in yesterday’s match was just how well and how hard Nadal was serving. The Spaniard was clocking first serves in the 130s MPH and he never was broken in seven tries.
“That is pretty strange because I wasn’t serving really very well, really until two days before the competition,” said Nadal. “I changed a little bit the grip, about five or six inches up. I felt like when I didn’t have free points and I needed that. So I tried to play a little bit more aggressive.”
Nadal has never been passed the semifinals at the US Open, and he hasn’t won a hardcourt title in 18 months so the numbers are still against him in his push toward a career Slam. On Sunday he’ll get Frenchman Gilles Simon who does have a concrete win over Rafa on his resume.
Rafa wasn’t the only Spaniard winning on Friday, there were no fewer than SIX others! David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Tommy Robredo, Nicolas Almagro and 5-set winner Feliciano Lopez all made it thru giving Spain nine players in the US Open third round.
The match of the day belonged to American Ryan Harrison. The 18-year-old was up against New Haven champion Sergiy Stakhovsky. After Harrison dropped the first set the Louisiana kid surged back winning the second and third.
Stakhovsky seized the fourth and in an uneven, near-chokefest he won the fifth 8-6 in the breaker in what was really the match of the tournament.
Harrison led in that final set breaker 6-3 with three matchpoints. But Staks came up with two strong plays on his serve and when Harrison double faulted at 6-6 the Ukrainian was finally able to put the teen away in over 4 hours.
“It was a great experience,” said Harrison after his first career 5-set match. “I’ve always believed in myself and I’ve always believed that I could come in here and compete at this level. But to go out there and actually execute and to win some of the matches I did, I’m extremely happy about and extremely proud.”
If you haven’t seen or heard of Ryan, don’t worry, because you’ll be getting him in heavy doses for many, many years to come. Unlike Roddick, Ryan doesn’t have a monster serve or a go-to shot, but he makes up for it in variety and guile.
Harrison spends a lot of time at the net (at least he did yesterday). He can hit his backhand and forehand well. He moves well, he seems to have good instincts and his overhead – as we saw yesterday – was exceptional. Is he an American version of Federer? That’s a lot to live up to but he does bring a lot of options on the court with him.
Watching Harrison-Stakhovsky was a delightful throwback to days of serve/volley tennis. Both guys fearlessly attacked the net almost on every point. Harrison said his dad, Pat, got him into that attacking mindframe early on.
“He’s always thought I was a great athlete and thought I had the ability to come in and have a good feel at the net, as well as good speed behind the baseline to play defense, and then mechanically strong strokes to attack from the ground whenever I can,” Harrison said. “So for me, the biggest change this week, as opposed to the last six months, was I went into every match with a specific, This is how I’m gonna beat this guy. This is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do X, Y, and Z and try and execute it. I was able to play some high level tennis.”
While Harrison fell, his countryman John Isner and Sam Querrey both advanced as did Andy Murray, David Nalbandian and Stan Wawrinka.
For the women, Kim Clijsters ripped off 12 straight games to turn away Wimbledon semifinalist Petra Kvitova (Johnny Mac says Petra could be Top 5?) 6-3, 6-0. Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Sam Stosur and Elena Dementieva were also winners.
Saturday’s schedule includes Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova who plays this year’s Melanie Oudin, Beatrice Capra. And I don’t really see too much trouble for any top player today.
Mathieu should be able to make a match of it against Federer, while Djokovic could drop a set to James Blake, otherwise business as usual. Robin Soderling could also be tested by Thiemo De Bakker.
Two of the best battles today involve Gael Monfils v. Janko Tipsarevic and Mardy Fish v. Arnaud Clement. I think both matches are toss-ups.
On the television, matches now shift in the U.S. from ESPN2 to CBS this afternoon/weekend with Tennis Channel televising the night session.
Click for the full US Open tennis TV schedule.
US OPEN SATURDAY SCHEDULE
Arthur Ashe Stadium 11:00 AM
Jelena Jankovic(SRB) vs. Kaia Kanepi(EST)
Beatrice Capra(USA) vs. Maria Sharapova(RUS)
Paul-Henri Mathieu(FRA) vs. Roger Federer(SUI)
James Blake(USA) vs. Novak Djokovic(SRB)
Svetlana Kuznetsova(RUS) vs. Maria Kirilenko(RUS)
Louis Armstrong Stadium 11:00 AM
Robin Soderling(SWE) vs. Thiemo de Bakker(NED)
Caroline Wozniacki(DEN) vs. Yung-Jan Chan(TPE)
Arnaud Clement(FRA) vs. Mardy Fish(USA)
Alexandra Dulgheru(ROU) vs. Vera Zvonareva(RUS)
Grandstand 11:00 AM
Gael Monfils(FRA) vs. Janko Tipsarevic(SRB)
Patty Schnyder(SUI) vs. Yanina Wickmayer(BEL)
Jurgen Melzer(AUT) vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero(ESP)
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