Going toe-to-toe with US Open defending champion Rafael Nadal is a lot to ask of any player, particularly at a Grand Slam. But that's just the kind of challenge that was posed to 29-year-old Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in their second-round contest.
Granted, Mahut is one of the few players on the ATP Tour to have claimed a win over Nadal, a 2007 straight-sets victory on the Queen's grass, but that was just before the Spaniard's rise to dominance. Unfortunately for Mahut, he wasn't able to see the entire challenge through on Friday, as he retired at the end of the second set, 6-2, 6-2, citing pain when he was serving.
“I think I played well, played a good match against (a tough) opponent,” Nadal said after the match. “He is difficult to play. He's doing all the time serve and volley, returning quick. So I tried to repeat all the time the same points, try to play with my strategy, try to have control of the point with my forehand, try to play a little bit more aggressive when I have the chance, and I think I did.”
Mahut showed no signs of injury or discomfort during the first set, and he nearly broke Nadal in the second game. But unforced errors got the better of the Frenchman's game, allowing Nadal to pull away with two breaks of serve and a 5-2 lead. It wasn't until the end of the first set that Mahut appeared to be less than 100 percent.
His usual tactics of trying to end points early by hitting drop shots and coming into the net weren't giving him the advantage. Time and time again, he tried to make a transition to the net, but he didn't do enough with the ball, hitting soft, floating shots that were sitting targets for Nadal to pounce on and easily put away. In 33 minutes, Nadal had bagged the first set.
Mahut's unforced errors carried on into the second set, and each time he tried to make a play at the net, Nadal fired a winning passing shot. Nadal broke Mahut's serve for a 3-2 lead, and Mahut gifted his opponent another game when he double faulted on break point to fall behind 5-2. After Nadal served out the second set, Mahut called it a day before the third set was even underway.
The 10-time Grand Slam champion Nadal looked as solid as ever, advancing into round three without dropping a set. He will next face David Nalbandian, a four-set winner over Ivan Ljubicic.
Nadal admits he is gaining more confidence with every day, and the extra time to rest and practice after spending only an hour and 20 minutes on court Friday will certainly help as he looks forward to the third round.
“For me he's a very dangerous opponent,” Nadal said of Nalbandian. “I had very tough matches against him. I lost first two against him in Madrid and Paris. I beat him in an unbelievable match in Indian Wells 2009, and I beat him in Miami 2010. Both matches was tough. He's dangerous. It will be a very good test for me.”
- Mahut committed 28 unforced errors, including 5 double faults.
- Nadal won all seven of his net approaches. Mahut won 20 of 40.
- Nadal finished with 24 winners and only 5 unforced errors.
|Nicolas Mahut FRA||15||2||2|
|Rafael Nadal ESP (2)||30||6||6|