samedi 31 août 2013

Rafael Nadal advances at US Open after routine win over Ivan Dodig

For all that the estimable Mats Wilander regards Andy Murray as the "best player in the world", the man who has won nine titles and 56 of 59 matches this year, including 17 without inconvenience on hard courts, is making a convincing counter-argument.
"This is the best I've seen Rafael Nadal play," the former world No4 and US Open finalist Greg Rusedski observed, after the Spaniard advanced to the fourth round here with a routine 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over the Croat Ivan Dodig.
The Spaniard, who has played for a few weeks now without strapping on his troublesome right knee, had to save a couple of break points, but his movement, power and accuracy in the shot were in stunningly good order. It will take a special performance – and probably a special player, rather than another outsider, as at Wimbledon the past two years – to stop him.
The seven-month sabbatical he took after his first shock loss on his grassy graveyard looks to have not only saved his career and given bounce back to his perennially wonky knees, but he is rejuvenated in every way.
At 27, he is as sharp as when he was when winning three years ago. There is not a hint of discomfort in either his lateral or forward movement and he hunted down drop-shots on Saturday as if he were he were chasing rabbits in a field.
As Rusedski pointed out, Nadal is also getting a huge kick on his top-spun forehand, the shot that leaves opponents with a single-handed backhand at a muscle-wrenching loss. At the top of that category, of course, is Roger Federer, who is scheduled to meet Nadal in the quarters – providing the Swiss comes through his overnight third-round match against the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Nadal beat a pretty good player in the 38th-ranked Dodig, who was striving for his second consecutive fourth-round slot, having gone that deep at Wimbledon in July, but, after a feisty start, the Croat ran out of solutions to the many puzzles set for him. There were some memorable gets and winners off Nadal's educated racket, few better than an angled backhand volley on the run that zipped back so acutely across the net that Dodig almost fell trying to retrieve it.
When Nadal won the title here in 2010, he reconstructed his game from top to bottom, adding muscle to his serve and bringing an improved backhand to prevent exposure across the baseline when receiving. It worked just about to perfection.
What is remarkable about him is that, while his serve is functioning efficiently – he averaged 108mph on first serve and struck just three aces and no double-faults – it is his traditional strengths that are again bringing him success. Rarely can he have hit his forehand with such venom, and it was that banker shot that won him 24 of 27 clean winners.
His speed, meanwhile, looks to be close to what it was at his peak, testimony to his training regime while he was in rehabilitation. He missed the 2012 US Open, of course, because of it and he might be about to reap the ultimate dividend if his form continues into the second weekend.
"It's great to be in the fourth round," Nadal said. "Better today than the first two rounds. Here we are after six months back playing tennis again in a great position. I am trying to play more aggressively, it's true, but that's because I am playing well. If I'm not playing well, I have to be more defensive."


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