Give Rafael Nadal the slightest opening and he will find a way to win. Give him no opening and he will still find a way to win.
Nadal, the No. 2 seed at the U.S. Open, lost the second set of his fourth-round match against Marin Cilic but decisively reversed course to move within two points of closing it out. Cilic came to the net and hit a volley that seemed beyond Nadal’s reach, but the 33-year-old Spaniard thought otherwise. Sprinting to his left, he got to the ball and flicked it around the net post for a winner, triggering roars from a crowd that included an elated Tiger Woods. A point later, Nadal sealed a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory and a place in the 40th career Grand Slam event quarterfinal of his career.
“I saw it. I ran fast to that ball,” he said. “I see at the last moment that there might have been the smallest space from that side. I think it was the only way to win that point.”
Nadal had more aces than big-hitting Cilic, 11-10, and hit 38 winners while Cilic committed 40 unforced errors. “I really enjoyed playing in front of the full crowd,” he said. “Arthur Ashe Stadium here in New York, night session. It’s difficult to be better.”
Little guy, big win
At 5 feet 7 in a world full of giants, Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman usually wins fans’ sympathy. “They see the small one and the big one, they are going with the small one,” he said. He conceded height to 6-foot-6 Alexander Zverev of Germany but 20th-seeded Schwartzman prevailed 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3. No. 6 seed Zverev sabotaged himself with 17 double faults and 65 unforced errors, but Schwartzman was relentless in returning nearly everything. “I have the confidence to beat many guys when the match is going many hours on court,” Schwartzman said. His quarterfinal opponent will be Nadal, who called him, “one of the most talented players on our tour. ... He is going to be a Grand Slam champion soon, I think.”
No. 13 seed Gael Monfils of France got to the quarterfinals by breezing past Pablo Andujar of Spain 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. He will face No. 24 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, who ousted Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (6). Berrettini, 23, has long admired Monfils. “He’s unbelievable. He’s an athlete. First he’s an athlete and then he’s a tennis player,” Berrettini said. “The way he moves on the court, the way he jumps is something crazy.”
The unseeded American doubles team of 15-year-old Coco Gauff and 17-year-old Caty McNally, nicknamed “McCoco,” was eliminated by Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty 6-0, 6-1. Gauff and McNally, who won the junior U.S. Open doubles title last year, were at a disadvantage in terms of experience. Azarenka is a two-time Grand Slam event singles winner and three-time Grand Slam event doubles runnerup. Barty, this year’s French Open singles champion, won the doubles title here last year with CoCo Vandeweghe. “They’re both great singles players, very accomplished. I think they just played really well tonight,” McNally said. “They brought more energy. I think we needed more energy out there.”
Both teenagers made their presence known here. McNally won her first-round match and the first set against Serena Williams before Williams came back for a three-set win, and Gauff reached the third round before she lost to world No. 1 Naomi Osaka. “I think I just kind of proved to myself that I can play at this level with the highest players. Taking a set off Serena, that was unbelievable. It just shows that I’m right there,” McNally said.
Said Gauff: “For me, for singles, I think the tournament was good. I learned a lot. Got to play on the biggest court in tennis. Obviously, this is my first main draw in the U.S. Open. I thought it was a good experience.”