World #1 and defending champion Rafael Nadal will look to continue his title-charge at the US Open when he takes on Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili. Nadal has had another excellent season and surely arrived at the US Open full of confidence having already claimed five titles this year. But Basilashvili is having the best year of his career so far and won the title in Hamburg, though he had never been beyond the third round at a Major before this event. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Basilashvili have met just once previously. That match came earlier this year at the French Open in the third round and it was not an enjoyable experience for the Georgian. To say that Nadal hammered him would probably be an understatement. Nadal was utterly untroubled as he took Basilashvili’s game apart and advanced an exceedingly comfortable 6-0 6-1 6-0 winner and he went on to win the title a week later against Dominic Thiem.
Path to the fourth round
Nadal began his US Open campaign against his Davis Cup teammate and the long-time Spanish #2 David Ferrer, who was playing his final Grand Slam. Unfortunately for Ferrer, the Achilles injury that has dogged him of late again brought him low and he was forced to retire in the second set. Nadal then brushed aside Vasek Pospisil 6-3 6-4 6-2. But he was challenged by Karen Khachanov, who came close to springing a memorable upset, but Nadal just pulled through 5-7 7-5 7-6 7-6.
The unseeded Basilashvili opened his US Open with a battling five-set win over Aljaz Bedene, 6-2 4-6 6-2 2-6 6-4. That victory set up a clash with the struggling 18th seed Jack Sock, who has won just six matches all year despite starting the year inside the top ten, and Basilashvili added to his woes with a 4-6 6-2 6-3 7-6 win to reach the third round. There he faced Guido Pella of Argentina who famously upset Cilic at Wimbledon, but in New York Basilashvili bested him 6-3 6-4 1-6 7-6.
How do they match up?
Nadal is a nightmarishly difficult opponent for any player on account of his incredible defensive abilities and his considerable offensive quality. Khachanov, who boasts massive power, did manage to hit 66 winners past Nadal. But the Russian was redlining his game, and he also made 55 unforced errors. And Nadal himself hit 49 winners in that match, to add to the 42 he struck in his first two matches. Concerningly for him, Basilashvili does not have Khachanov’s weapons.
He does hit the ball hard, but does not have the accuracy of the Russian as evidenced by his performance against Pella. He hit 32 winners, but made 61 unforced errors. Those are not numbers that will provide him with a path to victory against Nadal, and he will have a job even replicating them. His serve is also lacking in comparison with Khachanov’s. Khachanov hit 22 aces against Nadal, Basilashvili found just three against Pella.
There were points in his clash with Khachanov where Nadal looked like he was rocking. In the end it was the 22-year-olds belief that failed him more than his game. But Basilashvili is not in Khachanov’s class, let alone Nadal’s. If he can play the perfect match, he could best Nadal. But in reality it is hard to see him having much joy. He lacks the power and accuracy to go toe-to-toe with Nadal and emerge victorious. It may not be as one-sided as it was at Roland Garros, but expect a straight sets Nadal win.