World #1 and defending champion Rafael Nadal remains on course for a fourth US Open title, but if he wishes to continue his challenge he will have to overcome Russian young gun Karen Khachanov. Nadal has enjoyed one of the best seasons of even his illustrious career and will want to put a seal on his position as the world’s best by winning the title. But Khachanov is in good form himself and if he can beat Nadal the draw will open wide for him. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Khachanov have met four times, and it is not a match up the younger man has much enjoyed. Their first match came last year at Wimbledon and it proved to be a comfortable victory for the Spaniard who won through to the fourth round 6-1 6-4 7-6. Nadal then dismissed him 6-3 6-3 in Beijing last October before dealing out a 6-3 6-2 hammering in Monte Carlo in April. Khachanov did give a good account of himself earlier this month in Toronto but lost 7-6 6-4 nonetheless.
Path to the third round
Nadal, who arrived in New York on a five-match winning streak after lifting the title in Toronto, faced the early test of David Ferrer, who was playing his last Slam. Ferrer played well early on, but the Achilles injury that has rendered him increasingly lame forced him to retire midway through the second set, bringing to an end his commendable career at the Majors. Nadal then faced Vasek Pospisil and delivered an excellent performance to brush the Canadian aside in a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win.
Khachanov has looked in formidable form himself. In the first round he faced the struggling Albert Ramos Vinolas, last year a finalist in Monte Carlo but now outside the top 50, and the Russian was rampant, winning 6-3 6-2 6-3 to set up a second-round clash with lucky loser Lorenzo Sonego. The Italian had taken full advantage of his reprieve by retiring Gilles Muller in the first round in five, but was no match for Khachanov who won 7-5 6-3 6-3.
How do they match up?
Nadal demonstrated against Pospisil just how difficult it is to hit through him. Time and time again the Canadian threw all that he had against Nadal, only to end up watching Nadal flash a winner past him. Nadal was able to consistently keep the ball deep and wide even when under pressure and that denied Pospisil the chance to take control of many rallies. Nadal’s cause was also helped by how effective he was at the line, with Nadal winning 56 of 75 points behind his serve.
But he will face a more concerted assault from Khachanov than Pospisil was able to muster. The Russian boasts a huge forehand and a powerful serve nor is he afraid to take his backhand on. Against Sonego he won 90% of the points behind his first serve, though there was room for improvement in his first serve percentage, which was only 58%. He will need to make Nadal run more than him, which Pospisil was not able to do. The Canadian ended up running 250m more than Nadal in their match.
In the past, Khachanov has run into the same problem that many big-hitters do against Nadal. Which is that they can’t consistently hurt Nadal, but that he can consistently hurt them. And the way Nadal moved and hit the ball against Pospisil was ominous. Players better than Khachanov may well have watched that performance and shuddered. That does not bode well for the young Russian. He may be competitive, but victory will be beyond him. Nadal in straight sets.