World number one Rafael Nadal takes on former world number 13 Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Stylistically the two men almost could not be more different, but both bring thrilling shot making to the court. Both will also be desperate to win through to the quarter-finals as they have points to prove on the hard courts of New York. Who will emerge victorious from the second match on Arthur Ashe?
Nadal and Dolgopolov have clashed eight times over the course of their careers, with Nadal leading the head-to-head 6-2. Nadal won their first five matches, beginning in Madrid in 2010 at the Masters 1000 event in the round of 32. The Spaniard was a comfortable 6-4 6-3 winner and won with similar ease in the next three matches, all of which came on hard courts. Their fifth meeting came on clay in the final in Rio in 2014, which Nadal also won in straight sets, although Dolgopolov pushed the Spaniard to a tie break in the second set. Dolgopolov then scored back-to-back wins over the Spaniard in 2014 at Indian Wells and in 2015 at Queen’s. Nadal, however, reasserted himself in their most recent meeting, which came earlier this year in Brisbane. The Spaniard was again a straight sets winner in the round of 32.
Nadal also has considerably more experience than Dolgopolov. Although the Ukrainian has a respectable 207 match wins and three career titles, those numbers pale in comparison with Nadal’s 858 wins and 73 titles. Dolgopolov is looking to reach his second Major quarter-final while Nadal has played in 31.
Path to the fourth round
Nadal began his US Open campaign against Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic. Lajovic began brightly, breaking Nadal early on. The Serbian continued to play well in the first set and served for it at 5-4. But two net cords went against him and he was broken. He continued to battle and reached a tie break but he caved. Nadal rolled through the second and third sets for the loss of only four games to complete a 7-6 6-2 6-2 victory. That set up a meeting with Taro Daniel, the Japanese player born in New York. Daniel seemed to be drawing on his New York heritage in the first set, matching Nadal blow for blow from the baseline. A late break sealed it for the Japanese but that was his brightest moment. Nadal ratcheted up the pressure thereafter, particularly with his forehand, and dominated the next three sets.
Nadal’s third round match was against Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer. The Spaniard was initially held at bay by Mayer’s powerful groundstrokes. Mayer’s backhand, which was highlighted as a potential weakness before the match, was rock solid. His serving too was impeccable and he took the first set in a tie break. Nadal was struggling to convert break points, but after nearly two hours he finally took one, and the match turned on it. A run of six straight games from 3-3 in the second set put Nadal in control, and he didn’t relinquish it. Mayer broke Nadal when he served for the match in the fourth set, but he had been a double break behind and Nadal made no mistake at the second time of asking.
Dolgopolov opened against Jan Lennard Struff. The German took the first set, and despite Dolgopolov winning the next two, Struff continued to plug away. He was rewarded with the fourth set, but Dolgopolov broke decisively in the fifth set to seal a hard fought win. Dolgopolov next faced 15th seed Tomas Berdych and again dropped the first set. But the big Czech began to wilt thereafter, and despite his best efforts, he proved able to offer only limited resistance in the next three sets. Dolgopolov wrapped up a 3-6 6-1 7-6 6-2 win. This set up a clash with Serbian Viktor Troicki who the Ukrainian dismantled in a 6-1 6-0 6-4 win to reach the fourth round in New York for the second time.
How do they match up?
Nadal’s most important shot is his forehand, but it’s far from his only weapon. His backhand has always been an underrated shot and it has become even better under the guidance of Carlos Moya. Under his compatriot’s tutelage, Nadal has stepped into the backhand more often, hitting it flatter and with more power. His court coverage is also almost unrivalled, with only the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray coming close with their defensive skills. Against that, Dolgopolov brings a willingness to take the ball early, a fine serve and a terrific sliced backhand. Whilst the Ukrainian’s defensive slice may not be an elite shot, there are few better at using the slice offensively.
One key area for Dolgopolov will be his backhand. He can hit plenty of winners with his double hander, but it can also break down under pressure. A right hander can be certain that Nadal will apply pressure on their backhand with his cross-court forehand. Dolgopolov will have to be willing to take his backhand down the line. It is a tactic Djokovic has beaten Nadal with even at Roland Garros, and Daniel was able to trouble him by doing the same in the second round.
Nadal should win this match. It’s never easy to take on Dolgopolov, but the courts are playing slow and high bouncing which suits Nadal. Dolgopolov has not played that well this tournament, his third round destruction of Troicki aside. All that points to a Nadal win, although he will have to start faster than he did against Daniel and Mayer. If he does that he has every chance of coming through the match in straight sets.
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