2017 finalists were nearly pushed to the very brink today at the US Open. In matches going on simultaneous indoors on Ashe and Armstrong, defending champion Rafael Nadal was in a heap of trouble against the young Russian Karen Khachnov. The 22-year-old powerful Khachanov was pounding groundstrokes and push Nadal. But up a set and serving for the second (Rafa has never come from two sets down to win a hard court match), Khachanov blinked, Nadal grabbed the next three games to level.
With the roof closed, it was far from over as Khachanov, who was 0-4 against Nadal, wouldn’t go away. Thanks in part to three double faults, Nadal took a thrilling breaker 9-7 in the third, then had a break but failed to serve out the match. Khachanov returned to life but Nadal got the job done with a 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) win.
At 4 hours, 23 minutes, it was Nadal’s longest match of his US Open career.
“He’s improving always,” Nadal said of Khachanov. “He’s young. He has everything. He’s a great player. I really see him winning a lot of matches in his tennis career. He does a lot of good things. He has a great future to come. For me personally, of course, it was a physical, demanding match. It was a mentally demanding match. That’s why we practise every day, to play these kind of matches in a great atmosphere in front of an amazing crowd.”
Khachanov praised Nadal.
“I gave everything what I had,” Khachanov said. “I think everybody saw it. I’m proud of myself that I could play a good game today, fight til the end. Just a few points difference that it could go another way.
“Big respect to Rafa. That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world, such a great fighter. I’m just happy about my performance. I hope to keep going that way.”
On Louis, former finalist Kevin Anderson and Denis Shapovalov were going toe-to-toe. But at 6-foot-8, Anderson’s toes are bigger, and the South African got the break in the fifth while then teen went 0-5 on break points in that final set. Anderson won it 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
“Definitely tricky playing somebody who you haven’t played before,” said Anderson. “Obviously I watched him playing a lot. Actually practiced with him a few weeks ago in Toronto. The match is always different, but you have a sense of what’s going on.
“It was really important for me to obviously get that break in the second and turn things around a little bit. I think that sort of put the match with me in control. But, of course, it ended up being really close at the end with him coming back in the fourth. I thought it was great tennis throughout. It was an incredible atmosphere. Really had to dig deep to get through that one.”
Anderson will meet Dominic Thiem on Sunday. The Austrian won a tough four-setter over Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-4. Thiem also beat Fritz last year, but he’s just 1-6 against Anderson.
Nikolaz Basilishvili beat Guido Pella in four sets to reach his first Grand Slam fourth round. He’ll be Nadal’s next opponent. Rafa destroyed the Georgian losing just one game 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 at the 2017 French Open.
While Shapovalov fell, Milos Raonic followed and got past 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-3. Wawrinka had outplayed Raonic early on and led with a mini-break in the first set breaker, but Raonic came up with the shots when needed and gained momentum that he never let go. Raonic never lost serve firing 14 aces in the win.
Raonic meets fellow big man John Isner who took out Dusan Lajovic 7-6(8), 6-7(6), 6-3, 7-5 behind 34 aces. Isner has lost serve just two times in three matches, Raonic three times.
“He seems to be playing very well,” Isner said of Raonic. “I think back to his level of a few years past. I mean, I have the utmost respect for him. I think he’s an excellent player, he’s proved that his whole career.
“It will be a tough match certainly. We’ve played a handful of times. Matches between us are inherently close, as you can imagine.”
Borna Coric ended the 8-match win streak of Daniil Medvedev with a convincing 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win. He’ll get 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro who beat Fernando Verdasco in three sets.
The third round finishes Saturday with Roger Federer taking on Nick Kyrgios. Federer leads 2-1 but all three of their meeting have gone to a final set breaker. This will be their first clash in a Slam.
“I think his slice return, his chip return, is the best the game has ever seen,” Kyrgios said of Federer’s best shots. “There has never been a better chip return ever. I think if you took that shot away, he wouldn’t be as good because he neutralizes big serves as well. He turns it into pretty much instant offense.
“His serve and first shot unbelievable, very unpredictable. And he’s unbelievably efficient. Never gets tired, doesn’t seem like it. His movements are so efficient. He’s just, yeah, those would be the three things. He’s efficient, serve and first ball, and chip return.”
And Novak Djokovic also returns under the lights against Richard Gasquet. Djokovic has won 12 of 13 on the Frenchman and he’s taken 16 of his last 17 on the tour.
Alexander Zverev takes on countryman Philipp Kohlschreiber for a fifth time and Marin Cilic battles teen Alex De Minaur.
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