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Nadal is upset by Ferrer

Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Rafael Nadal seemed to be crumbling, body part by body part, as Tuesday night turned to this morning at the U.S. Open during a baseline marathon against his Spanish countryman David Ferrer in the fourth round.

In fact, Nadal, already dealing with sore knees, needed treatment from the trainer when the ring finger of his left hand cramped early in the fourth set. He would later go down in the corner after another grueling point, exhausted and spent, in the seventh game of the same set.

One game later, the second-seeded Nadal tumbled right out of the event. Ferrer, seeded No. 15, manufactured the shock of the tournament, beating Nadal, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in 3 hours 28 minutes with a ferocious groundstroke attack.

Nadal-Ferrer was the second half of an electric evening doubleheader. The first part was a tense quarterfinal between No. 1 Justine Henin and No. 8 Serena Williams.

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Henin pulled off a brilliant plan, pressuring Williams’ serve with her returns and often taking early control of the rallies and breaking down Williams’ forehand. Conception of strategy is one thing, but execution is another, and Henin did both, beating Williams, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

Quite simply, Ferrer, the 25-year-old from Valencia beat Nadal at his own game, nearly running down everything. He only expressed fatigue during his on-court TV interview after the match finished at 1:50 a.m., New York time.

“Tomorrow, I don’t want to run more,” said Ferrer, who had never gone past the third round here. “I am very tired. To beat Rafa, I have to run a lot. I’m happy for that and sorry for my friend. It’s my first time I played at night and the atmosphere was unbelievable.

“Tonight is very special for me.”

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Nadal had lost to Ferrer only once in five previous meetings and refused to make his injuries an issue.

“Well, I speak a lot of my physical all the week, so I don’t want to,” he said. “I don’t want to put any excuse. He play very good and he beat me. Maybe another day we can speak about the injuries.”

And so much for the U.S. Open dream final between Roger Federer and Nadal.

Henin has defeated Williams in three consecutive Grand Slam events this year, all in the quarterfinal round, and also recorded her first win on a hard-court surface against Williams in their long rivalry.

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Three wins against Williams on three surfaces on the biggest stages of the sport.

“From the tiebreak until the end, I played unbelievable tennis,” Henin said. “I’ve been aggressive like the No. 1 player in the world, just trying to dictate the points.”

Not only did Williams fail to bring her very best to the big-match occasion, she also left any element of graciousness behind once she entered the interview room. Clearly, this loss stung bitterly, much more than the defeats at the French Open and at Wimbledon.

There was this assertion when asked whether her level fell off in the 36-minute second set, saying: ". . . I just think she made a lot of lucky shots, and I made a lot of errors. I don’t think my level dropped.”

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That would be 30 lucky shots from Henin, also known as winners.

And a Henin winner, or lucky shot, will not be haunting Williams. Instead, it will probably be the set point she squandered in the 12th game. Serving at 5-6, 30-40, Henin hit a second serve of 88 mph and Williams returned it long.

There was an edgy quality to the first set, and Henin blew a set point at 5-4 when she netted a forehand. The tiebreak featured a marvelous 23-shot opening point, won by Williams with a passing shot but that seemed to sap her energy.

She denied fitness was an issue, saying, “I’m very fit. I can run for hours.”

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A match time of 1 hour 37 minutes hardly qualified. Running for hours was left to the likes of fourth-round winners Juan Ignacio Chela (3:41) Carlos Moya (2:25) and No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

The 31-year-old Moya, the oldest man in the singles draw, beat 19-year-old Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, 7-5, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-4, and it put him in the final eight at the U.S. Open for the first time since 1998.

Djokovic, the marathon man, who beat Juan Monaco, 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-1, in a match that went so long that it delayed the night match between Williams and Henin.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com


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