With a possible semi-final against Roger Federer lying ahead, world number one Rafael Nadal plays 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev, who broke into the top 50 this year after winning his first ATP title in Umag. Chasing his third US Open title, will Nadal be able to reach his first semi-finals at Flushing Meadows since his triumph in 2013 or will Rublev pull off the upset in front of a packed Arthur Ashe crowd?
This will be the first meeting between Nadal and Rublev. Rublev is one of the Next Gen, a group that includes the likes of Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric and Denis Shapovalov. Interestingly, Rublev grew up idolising Nadal and even practised with the Spaniard in Majorca a few years ago. Although the Russian teenager said ahead of the match that he has nothing to lose, the Spaniard differed saying there was plenty at stake in a Slam quarter-final.
Rublev, who is the son of a former top amateur boxer, also enjoys the unique distinction of being the youngest man to reach the US Open quarter-finals since Andy Roddick 16 years ago. However, Nadal obviously is far ahead of Rublev in terms of experience but envies the moment the Russian is enjoying right now. “I am happy being young. I don’t want to get older. For the moment, I didn’t find the way to stop that watch,” the Spaniard said in an interview ahead of the match.
Nadal must be glad that he has remained healthy for once in a glittering career that has been plagued by innumerable injuries. He will have high hopes this year in New York and all eyes are set on a first Roger Federer-Nadal meeting at the US Open, which will turn into reality if both win their quarter-finals.
Path to the quarter-finals
Nadal did not begin his US Open campaign in the best way possible, dropping the opening sets in his second and third round matches against Japan’s Taro Daniel and Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer. Having beaten Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic in the first round in straight sets, Nadal put all those doubts to rest in the fourth round against Alexandr Dolgopolov, winning 82% of the points on his first serve and 79% on second serves en route to a clinical 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory over the Ukrainian. Nadal’s forehand worked well against Dolgopolov as he smashed 23 winners and committed just 11 unforced errors throughout the course of the match.
Rublev has enjoyed a dream run at Flushing Meadows and his victims in New York include world number nine Grigor Dimitrov and ninth seed David Goffin, dispatching both in straight sets. In fact, the only set Rublev has dropped so far was against Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Damir Dzumhur in the third round. In the first round, the Russian teenager made light work of Britain’s Aljaz Bedene, beating him in straight sets.
How do they match up?
Nadal has the stronger backhand of the two and his forehand cross-court can be equally lethal. However, Rublev will like to take his chances and if he produces the same form that he showed in the match against Dimitrov, it could be a close contest. Rublev lands a lot of big serves and has a devastating forehand although his backhand can be broken down. Rublev moves well for his age and likes to come into the net a lot, something which could pose a threat to the Spaniard.
It is a definite long-shot for Rublev to manage an upset in this encounter. Nadal looks to be playing well enough to stave off the young gun’s challenge. The Russian teenager might win a set, or even two, but it will be Nadal making his way to the semi-finals in New York. Nadal win in four tight sets.
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