Rafael Nadal def Leonardo Mayer 67(3) 63 61 64
Fourteen. Uncharacteristically, Rafael Nadal missed his first 14 break opportunities Saturday evening against Leonardo Mayer. The World #59 endured one of the most rigorous shoulder work-outs imaginable, yet continued to hold. The set lasted 63-minutes. Mayer won it a tie-break 7-3. Not bad for a guy who, last week, fell in the final round of qualifying to World #125 Maximilian Marterer. He came into the main-draw as a “lucky loser,” and was up a set on the World #1, nearly into the second week of a Major.
Nothing new for this “lucky loser”
Nadal fans had good reason to be nervous. Earlier this year, 30-year-old Mayer fell to 16-year-old Rudolf Molleker in qualifying at the German Open in Hamburg. Due to a late withdrawl, he entered the main draw as the lucky loser. He’d go on to capture his second ATP World Tour Singles Title after winning an opening round, deciding-set, tie-break over World #24 Albert Ramos-Vinolas. He’s no Big Match Stan, but Mayer knows how to rise to the occasion.
Saturday’s 63-minute first-set certainly complicated matters for tournament organizers. The first two matches on Ashe were marathons. Last year’s US Open Finalist, Karolina Pliskova saved match-point and went the distance with Shuai Zhang. Coco Vandeweghe slugged it out with Agnieszka Radwanska for 2-hours and 56-minutes. The Nadal/Mayer match didn’t start until 5:30pm, and now the World #1 was down a set. Those with night session tickets to see Roger Federer would have to wait it out in the rain.
Relentless Rafa wears down Mayer
Nadal finally broke-through after set-2’s second changeover. Leonardo’s legs and shoulder turned to jelly. Rafa won four consecutive games to earn the second, gave up only one game in the third, and finally won it in the fourth, just shy of 9:00pm. It would be another late night in Flushing, as crews cleared Arthur Ashe Stadium for the night session’s 9:30 projected start. Federer and Feliciano Lopez would be first, followed by Madison Keys and Elena Vesnina.
Nadal has been saying it all week. The forehand has to improve if he’s to go deep into week-2. He’ll face Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov in Monday’s Round of 16. The Dog upset Tomas Berdych in Round-2 and has beaten Rafa twice before – at Indian Wells in 2014 and Queen’s Club in 2015. Nadal won their most-recent battle in straight-sets, earlier this year in Brisbane.