(AP) The ‘tweener lob Rafael Nadal somehow conjured up to get to match point was so spectacular, he was asked whether he’d ever before hit a shot quite like that.
“Well, actually, yes,” Rafa said, nodding and laughing. “Not many times, but I remember one.”
This one certainly was memorable, providing quite a flourish at the end of a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over 47th-ranked Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia on Friday night that put Rafa back in the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the first time since winning the 2013 title.
Rafa said the wrist, which helps generate all of that heavy topspin on his uppercut of a lefty forehand, still feels pain — but noted that it’s “something that is not limiting my game now. That’s the most important thing.”
He said his forehand is improving, and he’s particularly pleased to be more comfortable hitting that stroke down the line, which opens up space to allow him to hit it cross-court. Against Kuznetsov, Rafa produced 15 of his 22 winners with forehands.
But the shot everyone will talk about was not a forehand. Closing in on victory, Rafa raced toward the baseline to retrieve a lob hit by Kuznetsov. With his back to the net, Rafa lifted himself off the ground and flicked a lob of his own through his legs. His racket then slipped out of his hand, but he leaned over to grab it and eventually took that point.
Afterward, Rafa screamed, punched the air and spread his arms wide, pumping his fists.
“You cannot practice that kind of shot,” he said.
Not everything went so perfectly for Rafa on this evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium. His level dipped in the second set, when he double-faulted five times and was broken twice.
Still, he overcame that blip and came up with a strong close. Not only has he not lost a set through three rounds, but Nadal has dropped only 20 games so far. It’s the fewest games he’s lost en route to the fourth round at the U.S. Open.
Next comes a matchup Sunday against 24th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France.
“I need to be ready for the match,” Rafa said. “I need to be ready to play my best if I want to keep going.”
Source: Associated Press