Elliott: Rafael Nadal does bang-up job, advances at U.S. Open

So much is undeniable: Rafael Nadal is GOD – the greatest of this time.

Whether he is also the GOAT – the greatest of all time – remains an open question. But he’s building a strong case for GOAT status as he heads towards his third Grand Slam title in 2022 after missing a chance to sweep the four majors when a torn abdominal muscle left him ahead of his Wimbledon semi-final forced to withdraw.

Nadal advanced to the fourth round of the US Open, where he has won four of his 22 Grand Slam singles titles, with a 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 win over Frenchman Richard Gasquet on Saturday. Gasquet, who is 0-18 against Nadal in tour-level matches and has lost 34 straight sets to him since a Masters Canada event in 2008, received applause from sympathetic fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium as he finished 3-2, 4 -3 lead and 5-4 in the third set. Eventually, Nadal decided he’d had enough and wrapped things up to save energy for his fourth-round match on Monday against number 22 Frances Tiafoe.

“My best match of the tournament. Easily said,” said the 36-year-old Spaniard, who lost the opening set in each of his first two matches. “It’s a good win for me. I am without a doubt happy to be in the fourth round.”

Rafael Nadal returns a shot to Richard Gasquet during their US Open third round match.

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his third round match. The second seed has won four of his 22 major singles titles at the US Open.

(Adam Hunger/Associated Press)

Nadal, who is ranked No. 3 in the world but may move up to No. 1 depending on his result at Flushing Meadows, praised the Maryland native Tiafoe as charismatic, fast and aggressive. Nadal won their previous two meetings.

“He’s a player I won’t win if I don’t play well,” Nadal said. “So I have to play well. I hope that succeeds.”

At this stage, Nadal is being held together by medical tape and tenacity as he treats a chronic foot injury and abdominal tear. He added a cut to his nose to his medical record when his racquet hit the ground in his second-round match against Fabio Fognini on Thursday, bouncing and smacking him in the face. After undergoing treatment and recovering from some wobbles, he completed a four-set win. “I’ve lost a bit of that – I don’t know how to say it in English – but a bit of the feeling of my head,” Nadal said that evening, sporting a swollen nose that is still noticeable. “It’s about being a little bit out of the world.”

He really is out of this world. He is fragile but indestructible. A medical miracle. A miracle, period.

After 41-year-old Roger Federer recovered from knee surgery and Novak Djokovic missed his second Major this year due to immigration regulations related to his lack of vaccination against COVID, Nadal overtook Federer (20) and Djokovic (21) in Slam- single titles. Nadal may look like he’s falling apart, but he’s pulled together.

“When you watch Roger and Novak play it looks like they could do it forever, just the way they move and their fluidity on the pitch while Rafa just throws himself with every shot,” said ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe. “Obviously that was a big part of his success, but it was also one of the reasons he missed so many majors over the years. It’s all part of what makes him great. It’s also part of what made him vulnerable at times.”

According to ATP Men’s Tour stats, Nadal has a career win ratio of 83.3 versus 83.2 for Djokovic and 82.0 for Federer. On grass, Federer leads with 86.9%, followed by Djokovic with 85.8% and Nadal with 79.2%. Nadal leads on clay thanks to those 14 French Open titles with 91.3%, 80.3% for Djokovic and 76.1% for Federer. Djokovic leads on hard courts with 84.2%, Federer with 83.5% and Nadal with 78.3%.

Nadal has a 24-16 head-to-head advantage over Federer, Djokovic has a 30-29 advantage over Nadal, and Djokovic is 27-23 against Federer. Of the three that have dominated Slams for so long, Federer is the most elegant, Nadal the bravest and Djokovic the youngest, giving him a chance to catch or catch up with the other two. Nadal’s performances are sometimes downplayed because they are weighted by his success on clay at the French Open. That should count for him, not against him.

Frances Tiafoe reacts after winning a point in the third round of the US Open.

Frances Tiafoe, No. 22, reacts during his 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 14 Diego Schwartzman in the third round.

(Andres Kudacki / Associated Press)

“If you look at the fact that he’s won two Wimbledons now, he’s won two Australians and four US Opens, I think he’s certainly a great hard court player too,” McEnroe said. “It’s amazing that he was able to dominate on what is arguably the most physical of all four surfaces. It says something about his work ethic and his game and his style of play and his level of fitness, so I think you have to take that into account.”

Nadal has taken first place in McEnroe’s personal GOAT ranking. “I had Djokovic as my tallest until the pandemic hit. When they all turned 20, I still had Djokovic as the leader just because of the neck-and-neck race. And his ability on all surfaces is the best of the three in my opinion,” said McEnroe.

“At the end of the day, I think the number [of Slam titles] will of course be important. I don’t think it’s the alpha and omega of who has the most majors. When they are so close, I think you have to look at it with your hands and feet. But at the moment, based on Rafa, what he’s done especially in the last few years and especially this year has been phenomenal. It’s hard to say he’s one of the all-time greats, but considering Rafa has now won every Major at least twice by winning in Australia, that certainly makes a good argument.”

There is no definitive answer. And GOAT is a mythical title anyway. But Nadal is ahead of the pack at the moment, if only by the length of that battle-scarred, swollen nose.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-09-03/rafael-nadal-us-open-richard-gasquet-frances-tiafoe Elliott: Rafael Nadal does bang-up job, advances at U.S. Open

Emma Bowman

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