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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, September 3, 2022

 
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A ruthless Rafael Nadal dismissed Richard Gasquet, raising his record to 18-0 against the Frenchman, to set up a US Open fourth round vs. Frances Tiafoe.

Photo credit: @USOpen/USTA

NEW YORK—The only tennis task tougher than beating Rafael Nadal in a major this season is conquering the Grand Slam king after a subpar performance.

Such was the immense challenge facing Richard Gasquet in Arthur Ashe Stadium this evening.

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The result was predictably painful.

Storming through 14 of the first 15 games, Nadal stomped his childhood nemesis 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 to race into the US Open fourth round for the 12th time in 16 appearances in Flushing Meadows.

Bringing his best in Grand Slam play, Nadal raised his 2022 major record to 22-0.




Continuing his quest to collect a 23rd Grand Slam title and become the oldest US Open champion since a 36-year-old Bill Tilden won the 1929 US Championships, Nadal scored his 30th career night session win in New York.

"I always say night sessions here in New York are the best in the world without a doubt," Nadal said. "To play here is amazing in front of all of you. I think I increased a little bit the level today so that's important.

"When the tournament keeps going I am able to raise a little bit the level against a very good friend like Richard, happy to see him advance all the rounds."

The four-tme US Open champions continues a Spanish imposition in New York. Nadal joins third-seeded Carlos Alcaraz, Pablo Carreno Busta and Alejandro Davidovch Fokina as the fourth Spanish man to reach the US Open round of 16.

Next for Nadal is Tiafoe time on Monday.

American Frances Tiafoe converted eight of 18 break-point chances defeating Diego Schwartzman 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-4 in three hours, three minutes. The 22nd-seeded Tiafoe is through to the fourth round for the third consecutive year.

Nadal has won both prior meetings vs. Tiafoe, including a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the 2019 Australian Open quarterfinals, but knows the American is eager and will receive enthusiastic crowd support.

"He's a great player," Nadal told ESPN's James Blake in his on-court interview. "He's very charismatic, very fast. He can play very aggressive. I need to keep improving, keep playing better and better to get through.

"Hopefully a victory today helps me grow in terms of tennis and level of confidence. I hope to give myself a chance to keep going."

For Gasquet, beating Nadal is a task as immense as leaping the Unisphere in a single bound. Not only was Gasquet scarred by his 0-17 lifetime history of futility vs. Nadal it's been 14 years since he last won a set vs. the Spaniard. 

Credit Gasquet for swinging freely and truly testing Nadal in the third set, but by that time the damage was done. Nadal is now 18-0 lifetime against Gasquet, matching Novak Djokovic's 18-0 record over Gael Monfils for most lopsided head-to-head record in ATP history.

In the opening game, Gasquet had multiple break-point chances.

Racing up quickly to a poor drop shot, Gasquet knocked off a smash for triple break point in the opening game. Nadal exploited the Frenchman drifting well behind the baseline and banged a backhand down the line saving the third break point. Nadal navigated a tricky hold to open.

Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal's uncle and original coach, once said of his nephew's ability to torment rival Roger Federer's one-handed backhand with his twisting topspin as "not a Federer problem-—it's a one-handed backhand problem."

The Australian Open champion wasted no time playing heavy topspin that bounded shoulder high to back the Frenchman up. Once Nadal got Gasquet moving backward, he zapped the forehand down the line breaking for 2-0. Nadal deployed the serve-and-volley backing up the break at love for 3-0.

In Nadal's second-round rally from a set and 2-4 down vs. nemesis Fabio Fognini, we saw the Spaniard inadvertently bloody his own nose with a blow from his Babolat racquet.

Tonight, Nadal was dispensinsing punishment and Gasquet couldn't slip the barrage.

"[The nose is] a little bit bigger than usual, but it's okay," Nadal said. "The nose is still there so happy for that."

Though Gasquet had a game point chance to halt the bagel he pushed a drop shot wide. Nadal tomahawked a smash for set point and sealed a shutout set in 42 minutes. It was the second bagel Nadal dished out in his last four sets vs. Gasquet.

The good news for Gasquet is he pushed Nadal to deuce in seven of the first nine games. The bad news: Nadal won all nine games imposing a commanding 6-0, 3-0 lead over his shell-shocked opponent.

When Nadal put a backhand return into net, Gasquet finally stopped his nine game slide after 69 minutes of play. The crowd erupted in an ovation and Gasquet raised his arms in acknowledgement.




That was a brief reprieve from the whirlwind of spin storming from Nadal's yellow-and-black Babolat racquet. Sprinting up quickly to a Gasquet dropper, Nadal nudged a no-look touch pass wrapping a second set that saw him hit eight winners compared to none for his beleaguered opponent.

Four games into the third set, Gasquet read the drop shot, pushed back a replay and pulled off a superb lunging backhand volley winner breaking Nadal for the first time to forge a 2-all tie.




Firing a forehand down the line, Gasquet stamped his first love hold of the night. Serving with more ambition, Gasquet surged through 12 of 14 points snatching his first lead of the match at 3-2.

When Nadal served at 4-5, 30-all, Gasquet was two points from his first set win over the second-seeded Spaniard since the opening set of the 2008 Toronto quarterfinals. He would not get closer as Nadal slid an ace down the middle for 5-5.

A skidding Nadal nudged an imaginative lob to open the 11th game. When Gasquet yanked his signature shot, the one-handed backhand, wide, Nadal had triple break point. Gasquet denied all three, including a smooth drop shot-volley combination to draw even at deuce. Nadal played it sideline-to-sideline drawing a running error for his fourth break point of the game.




This time, Gasquet tried the surprise serve-and-volley, but Nadal was on it forcing the Frenchman into a challenging half-volley. Nadal swooped in for the pass, breaking for 6-5.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion served out a two hour, 17-minute win wrapping his first straight-sets win of the tournament after dropping the opening set to both Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata and Fognini.


 

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