Rafael Nadal was bloodied and tested in his second-round match at the US Open against Fabio Fognini. The Spaniard faced no such difficulties on Saturday inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The four-time champion breezed past former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 to reach the fourth round at Flushing Meadows. Nadal has won all 18 of his ATP Head2Head meetings against Gasquet and 34 consecutive sets against the Frenchman.
“My best match in the tournament… Easy to say that because the other day was tough. But, yeah, important improvement. But I need to keep going. It’s a good victory for me. Straight sets for the first time. Third set [was] a challenge. He increased the level,” Nadal said. “I went through some difficult moments. That’s something that is good, that I went through that and [was] safe [in those] moments with positive feelings. Happy to be in the fourth round, without a doubt.”
On Thursday evening, Nadal not only cut open the bridge of his nose in a freak accident in the final set; he had trailed Fognini by a set and 2-4. During his post-match press conference, the 22-time major winner was clear that he was “practising much, much better than what I am playing”.
The lefty showed that in his victory against the 15-time ATP Tour titlist Gasquet. After escaping a 0/40 deficit on his serve in the first game, Nadal raced through the rest of the match in two hours and 17 minutes.
Nadal won the first nine games of the clash. When Gasquet finally got on the scorebaord thanks to a Nadal return error, the Frenchman lifted his arms in celebration. It was that kind of match for the Frenchman.
Nadal hit a tremendous backhand passing shot for a winner from well behind the baseline to begin the third set, seemingly putting himself on the verge of victory. But Gasquet’s shoulders opened up from there and he got back on serve, showing the level that helped him to the Top 10 in the world. Nadal did not let the encounter get any trickier, earning his seventh service break at 5-5 before successfully serving for his place in the fourth round.
Gasquet holds the record for most losses against Nadal without a win (18). Second on the list is another Frenchman, Paul-Henri Mathieu, who lost all 10 of his clashes against the lefty.
Nadal will next play Frances Tiafoe, against whom he has won both his previous matches. The American defeated Argentine Diego Schwartzman 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-4 earlier in the day.
“I thought it was a hell of a match. Especially that first set, one of the craziest sets I’ve played in my career,” Tiafoe said. “It had everything in it. Down two breaks, serving again at 6-5, me down 6/3 in the breaker. Unbelievable how I even won the set.”
Nadal owns a 2-0 ATP Head2Head record against Tiafoe, but he is preparing for a difficult challenge.
“Second week against a great player like Frances, I need to be ready to play and to raise my level,” Nadal said. “I hope to be able to make that happen. I know it’s the right moment to make an improvement if I want to keep having chances to keep going on the tournament.”