Spain’s world number one Rafael Nadal continues his quest for a third US Open title against Argentinian Leonardo Mayer. Both men are most comfortable on clay courts but have shown some fine hard court form over the years. Nadal has had a terrific 2017 so far, whilst Mayer’s form has been largely indifferent despite improving since Wimbledon. The odds are against the Argentine, but he has shown the ability to upset them before. Will he be able to do it again to cause a huge upset in the third match on Arthur Ashe?
Nadal and Mayer have met three times so far in their careers and the Spaniard has won them all. In fact, Mayer is yet to win a set against Nadal. Their first meeting was five years ago in Indian Wells which Nadal won comfortably. He controlled the match to complete a 6-1 6-3 victory. Their second meeting a year later in the Acapulco quarter-finals was only slightly more competitive. Nadal again won the first set 6-1, and a late break sealed the second 7-5. They were scheduled to play again at the Indian Wells Masters, but Mayer withdrew from that match. Their most recent meeting was at the French Open in 2014, and Nadal won easily again. He took the first set, breaking Mayer twice but was held at bay for much of the second. Nadal broke late again and swiftly wrapped up the win in the third set.
The Spaniard also has more experience at the sport’s highest level than Mayer. Nadal has 857 career match wins to Mayer’s 137 and has won 73 titles to Mayer’s two. The Argentine has not yet gone beyond the third round at the US Open. He has made the second week of a Grand Slam only once, at Wimbledon in 2014 where he lost in the fourth round to Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets. Nadal, in contrast, has 15 Major crowns, including two at the US Open.
Path to the 3rd round
Nadal began his US Open campaign against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia. Lajovic surprised by going a break up early on in the first set and served for it. But two net cords went against him, and he was broken to love. The set went to a tie break, which Nadal won. Lajovic’s resistance crumbled and Nadal broke him twice in the second and third sets to complete a 7-6 6-2 6-2 victory. He next faced Japan’s Taro Daniel, who came out swinging. The Japanese took the first set with some superb shot making and seemed comfortable trading with Nadal from the back of the court. But Nadal’s forehand began to land with more venom, forcing Daniel back. The Spaniard went through the gears to win the next three sets 6-3 6-2 6-2 and reach the third round.
Mayer was the top seed in qualifying, and came through it very comfortably, not dropping a set throughout. His opening match in the main draw against Richard Gasquet seemed a tough proposition. Mayer’s chances of progressing looked slim when Gasquet took the first set, but Mayer managed to impose himself on the match thereafter. He won the next three sets to complete an upset win and set up a meeting with Japan’s Yuichi Sugita. Mayer again dropped the first set with Sugita taking it in a tie break, but Mayer was again able to recover well. Sugita had no answer to Mayer’s power in the next three sets as Mayer completed a second consecutive four-set win.
How do they match up?
Mayer’s success is built on his ability to hit penetrating groundstrokes off both his forehand and backhand. His forehand is his particular strength, with most of his winners coming from that wing. He is also a good server, able to hit it with pace and accuracy, although his second serve can leave him vulnerable. Nadal will bring his trademark energy and superb court coverage as well as that famous forehand. That shot, which has been the bedrock of all of his success, was misfiring badly in Montreal and Cincinnati and the Spaniard lost early as a result. He also looked short of conviction on it in the first set against Daniel. But it came to life afterwards and looked as good as it has since the French Open. If he can maintain that level, Mayer will not be the only player in trouble.
Serving well will be key for Mayer. Against Nadal there are always opportunities to break; he is far from the best server on tour but he also always manufactures opportunities to break his opponent’s serve. Mayer, therefore, will need to serve well, and endeavour to impose himself early in the rallies. He will not find baseline trading a route to victory.
Nadal hasn’t been at his very best but he has shown arguably the highest level of performance over the first two matches of any of the title contenders. That, coupled with Mayer’s struggles in their previous matches, makes it hard to see any other outcome than a Nadal victory. Moreover, the court has been playing quite slowly with fairly high bounces, which should help Nadal more than it helps Mayer. Nadal in straight sets.
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