(AP) — Locked in a tight test at the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal conjured up an over-the-shoulder, that he celebrated with a leap and punch of the air.
If that wasn’t the shot of the match, then surely this was, a couple of points later: a off an overhead by his opponent, 2014 champion Marin Cilic, good enough to earn a yell and four fist pumps from Rafa — along with in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands. Then again, maybe it was the sprinting, sliding, bend-it-around-the-net-post forehand winner to get to match point, which Woods loved, too.
Rafa is looking healthy and hungry at Flushing Meadows so far, and he quickly broke things open against Cilic by seizing nine consecutive games for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory in the fourth round Monday night.
Asked to explain that shot on the next-to-last point, Rafa chuckled a bit and said: “It’s easy to describe and difficult to make.”
“I hit it well,” Rafa said, “but to hit that spot, of course you need some luck.”
The 33-year-old Spaniard reached his ninth quarterfinal in New York and 40th at all major tournaments.
The No. 2-seeded Rafa, who retired from his 2018 semifinal at the U.S. Open with a knee injury, will try to get back to the final four by beating No. 20 Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. Schwartzman advanced earlier Monday by eliminating No. 6 Alexander Zverev 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
Against Cilic, who entered Monday with a 5-0 mark in fourth-round matches at Flushing Meadows, everything turned shortly after Rafa ceded a set for the first time in the tournament. As it is, he only had played two matches before this one, because his second-round opponent, Thanasi Kokkinakis, withdrew with a bad shoulder.
At 2-1 in the third set, with Cilic serving, Rafa came up with that no-look volley to begin things. After Cilic missed a shot, Nadal’s big backhand made it love-40. One double-fault later, that game was over — as, essentially, was the match.
Cilic simply never recovered.
They would go on to play for about another hour, and he managed to grab just two more games.