And it came from an unlikely challenge too.
The last time the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd beheld Rafael Nadal, he was facedown on the court, his body convulsing in sobs. The occasion was the 2010 United States Open final, where Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in four sets to complete a career Grand Slam.
Nadal, 25, opened the defense of his title Tuesday against Andrey Golubev at the 2011 U.S. Open the same way he had secured the victory against Djokovic, by holding serve. That was where the comparisons ended. Armed with a big serve and a laser forehand, Golubev, the 98th-ranked player in the world, gave Nadal all the power he could handle before falling, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-5, in 2 hours 49 minutes.
“So happy for the victory,” Nadal said, adding, “I think I didn’t play that bad. The mental part was positive tonight. The tennis for sure can improve.”
The 24-year-old Andrey Golubev did not look like a player who had recently ended a 17-match winless streak. He had seven set points, the first five on his serve in the second set, and was up a double break in the third. That Golubev could not close out either set had less to do his lack of nerve than Nadal’s abundance of it.
Nadal produced his best shots at key moments. He hit a backhand passing shot on the run to earn a break and put himself in position to serve for the first set. On match point, he hit as pretty a forehand passing shot as you will ever see.
“If you don’t think about the points, it was not bad…”
Read More » Rafael Nadal tested early at the 2011 U.S. Open