World #1 Rafael Nadal will look to continue his US Open title defence when he takes on Canada’s Vasek Pospisil. Nadal has enjoyed another fine year, having virtually swept the clay court season, reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and won the title in Toronto. But Pospisil, a Major champion in doubles and a Wimbledon quarterfinalist, has quality of his own and has scored some big wins in the past. Who will reach the third round?
Nadal and Pospisil have met just once previously. That contest came back in 2015 at the China Open in Beijing in the second round. It proved a fairly close match, with Nadal edging the first set on a tiebreak before taking the second by virtue of a solitary break to advance a 7-6 6-4 winner. The Spaniard went on to beat Jack Sock and Fabio Fognini to reach the final, but took a bruising 2-6 2-6 loss there to Novak Djokovic.
Path to the second round
Nadal, who took a period of rest after his Toronto triumph, began his US Open campaign against his old friend and Davis Cup teammate David Ferrer, long the Spanish #2. Ferrer, now 36, fell outside the top 100 after failing to defend the points he earned by reaching the last four in Cincinnati last year and was playing his final Grand Slam. He gave a fine account of himself, and was leading by a break in the second set, after losing the first, when injury forced him to retire.
Pospisil has fallen someway from the lofty ranking of 25th in the world he once found himself occupying. But he picked up some valuable wins ahead of the US Open at the Challenger in Vancouver, though he lost in the semifinals to Dan Evans of Great Britain. He looked to have taken the confidence he gained in Vancouver into his first-round match against Lukas Lacko as he delivered a clinical performance to dismiss the Slovakian 7-5 6-3 6-2.
How do they match up?
Nadal, like his fellow all-time greats Federer and Djokovic, is virtually without weakness. But he has plenty of strengths. His forehand has brought opponents to their knees throughout his career and he has added a much-improved backhand to his offensive arsenal. He also defends superbly and his court coverage is second to none. His serve, though not the weapon some of his colleagues possess, is exceedingly reliable and he backs it up well.
Against Pospisil, it is his defensive skills that may be of most use. The Canadian is relentlessly aggressive, particularly when he is able to land his big serve and forehand. Both are serious weapons and could pose Nadal problems. So too could Pospisil’s quality in the forecourt. But the 28-year-old is often as inaccurate as he is powerful and when his weapons misfire he has few alternatives. His backhand is also a weakness Nadal would do well to expose.
Pospisil does have a victory over a reigning world #1 to his name after beating Andy Murray last year in Indian Wells. But by then the Scot was already ailing with the hip injury that eventually forced him to undergo surgery. Nadal is a rather different proposition. The Spaniard is playing his best hard court tennis since 2013 and he should have far too much for Pospisil. Expect Nadal to take his place in the third round with a straight sets win.