Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal inched closer to a semifinal showdown on Saturday after winning their third rounders at the US Open.
Tournament top seed Nadal was on in the afternoon and after another flat start against a lightly-regarded opponent, Nadal revved up his game to pull away from “lucky loser” Leonardo Mayer 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 under the Ashe roof.
Mayer, who only made the draw when Milos Raonic withdrew, had never taken a set in three previous meetings with Rafa and also had never beaten a Top 10 foe on hard courts or at a Grand Slam. But after withstanding an early Nadal push, the Argentine settled down to take the first set. That was until Rafa began to find his mark in the second finally breaking Mayer on his 14th chance.
“It was a slow start of converting break points and when you have that many break points, you created the opportunities, more than usual,” said Nadal. “So if you are able to convert one, two of them, probably we will talk about another story because that’s the real thing. In the tie-break, I made a mistake, he played well and had some good serves.
“When you see that you lost a set that you had triple more opportunities than your opponent, then of course you are in trouble. At the beginning of the second, I had break points again. After that, finally I converted one at the 14th opportunity. After that, the match was completely different.
“You need matches like this. Then now I have the opportunity to compete again, to try to do it well. I am in the second week. That’s the important thing. I already won three matches in a row. That’s important news for me.”
It was the third straight match Nadal began slowly. Next for Rafa on Monday is Alexander Dolgopolov who blew out Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 in just 88 minutes.
In the evening, concern was high for Roger Federer after a shaky opener against Frances Tiafoe and having to escape from the clutches of Mikhail Youzhny.
Tonight, though, was all Federer. The Swiss was virtually flawless against Feliciano Lopez cruising to a 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 win in 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In a brisk 25-minute first set, Federer jumped on Lopez early and rode his serve to the early lead, and against Lopez, who he is now 13-0 against, that seemed to be enough for the Spaniard.
Federer did squander a break lead in the third but quickly got it back and served it out.
“Overall I have felt better, too,” Federer said. “I was happy I had good energy because I think that was my biggest worry, that somehow after the two five-setters that I had, I was going to feel a little slow, hard to throw the engine on, you know, that I would have to force myself so much, I would get tired from that.
It didn’t happen.
“I think I really got off to a good start. The first set was fast. Then the second set was close. Maybe I was struggling with my serve for a little bit to keep the level up, you know, that I was hoping to stay up. So I had to struggle a bit there. It was also good to get through those tougher moments.
“A little bit of a wobble in the third maybe. But, you know, it’s all good. I’m really pleased with the performance. It’s exactly I guess maybe what I needed going into the next round.”
In the win, Federer hit 13 aces surpassing Goran Ivanisevic’s total of 10,131 with 10,140 for second all-time. And Roger goes to 33-1 under the lights at the US Open.
Federer now meets Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round. He’s 11-0 against the German who hasn’t dropped a set all event after dismissing John Millman 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.
Andrey Rublev kept his great run going by eliminating Damir Dzumhur 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. The 19-year-old, who stunned Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday, is into his first Grand Slam fourth round against David Goffin.
“It feels great,” Rublev said. “Is first time I am in the second week of the tournament. This is amazing because we used to joke before about second week, how good is to be in the second week. Now I’m here. It feels good.”
Goffin advanced when 2016 semifinalist Gael Monfils retired down 7-5, 5-1 with a right knee injury.
In the other fourth round, Juan Martin del Potro will test Dominic Thiem in a rematch of their meeting a year ago when the Austrian retired due to a knee issue.
On Saturday, del Potro went to 9-0 in sets this week with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over an in-form Roberto Bautista Agut.
“I think I played the best match of the tournament,” the 2009 champ del Potro said. “I hit so well my forehand. I serve well during the whole match. I play very smart with my slice. I came to the net very often, tried to be aggressive all the time, and I think I play well.
“Bautista is very difficult guy to play. He has everything on his game and is never easy to beat one guy at level as him. I’m glad for my success.”
Thiem rallied from a break down to deny Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in straight sets 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
On tap Sunday in fourth round action, 18-year-old phenom Denis Shapovalov returns for his third straight match on Arthur Ashe against steady Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
Sam Querrey is also on Ashe but at night against Mischa Zverev. Lone former US Open quarterfinalist in the bottom half Lucas Pouille battles Diego Schwartzman and Paolo Lorenzi tries to stop the big-serving Kevin Anderson.
SUNDAY US OPEN SCHEDULE
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM 11:00 AM
Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) 
Anastasija Sevastova (LAT)  vs.Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) vs. Venus Williams (USA) 
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM 7:00 PM
Petra Kvitova (CZE)  vs. Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) 
Sam Querrey (USA)  vs. Mischa Zverev (GER) 
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