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Bad knee gives Nadal fits at U.S. Open; Federer cruises into 3rd round

Bad knee gives Nadal fits at U.S. Open; Federer cruises into 3rd round

Playing on a taped-up knee so painful he almost pulled out of the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal struggled to earn a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 first-round victory over Australian wild-card entry Alun Jones on Wednesday.
Nadal struggled to sprint, and scuffled against a foe who never has won a Grand Slam match, let alone a title. On a day when his rival, No. 1 Roger Federer, won easily, three-time French Open winner Nadal hardly looked ready to flourish at Flushing Meadows, where his career mark is worse than at any other major.
"I didn't run too much, no? I can't move too much," the No. 2-seeded Nadal said. "Difficult to play like this, especially here."
Federer had no difficulty at all Wednesday night as he bids to become the first man since the 1920s to claim four consecutive U.S. championships.
The top seed strode out for his 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Chile's Paul Capdeville looking dressed for a formal affair in black, head-to-toe: bandanna, wrist band, shirt, shorts, socks and shoes. The shorts even had satin stripes down the sides.
"A little bit of the tuxedo look," Federer said. "It's something special."
The only real fight Capdeville put up was directed at the chair umpire, who wouldn't let him challenge a call at the end of the second set because the replay request came too late.
Now Federer faces a much taller task: His third-round opponent is John Isner, the 6-foot-9 (2.06-meter) American who only a few months ago was playing college tennis. Isner followed up his first-round upset of No. 26 Jarkko Nieminen by beating Rik de Voest of South Africa 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
Like Federer, other past U.S. Open champions in action won in straight sets: Venus and Serena Williams, Justine Henin and Marat Safin. Nadal would love to join that club, and he and Federer have been building quite a rivalry, combining to corral the last 10 Grand Slam titles and meeting in four of the past six major finals.
Nadal is 2-0 against Federer in title matches at Roland Garros. Federer is 2-0 against Nadal in title matches at the All England Club. So the tennis world has been looking forward to a tiebreaker on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center's blue hard court.
But Nadal felt a "sharp pain" in his left knee Sunday, toward the end of a practice session. The next day, Nadal didn't practice at all and figured he would have to withdraw from the year's last Grand Slam tournament.
Nadal had an MRI exam that showed no significant damage, so he spent Monday and Tuesday getting treatment on the knee from a doctor and a trainer. That helped, but Nadal acknowledged he might not have been on court Wednesday were this any other tournament.
He only has been beyond the U.S. Open's third round once, reaching the quarterfinals last year. And there were moments when it appeared he might be in real trouble against Jones.
The 123rd-ranked Jones' claim to fame is a bit part in the film "Wimbledon," in which he had a minute of screen time portraying a tennis player who lost to the protagonist in the quarterfinals at the All England Club. His character's name was Tom, and to this day the 27-year-old gets called that in locker rooms.
He hasn't exactly made a name for himself in tennis, entering the day with a 2-5 career record in tour-level matches. About 2 1/2 years ago, he dropped off the circuit entirely for 12 months, teaching at a local club at the Australian capital Canberra and digging holes for his father's construction company.
Yet on Wednesday, for the better part of two hours, Jones gave Nadal all he could handle.
Quite a thrill, even if, as Jones put it, "I don't think he was at 100 percent. Only heard the grunt a few times."
In the third set, Jones broke for a 4-3 lead. At the ensuing changeover, a trainer came out to apply more tape above Nadal's left knee. While the heavy favorite was getting patched up, perhaps the heavy underdog had just a little too much time to consider the situation.
"I thought," Jones recounted, "'If I get this set, I've got a good chance of winning.'"
And right then, Nadal broke him at love, beginning to take control.
Top-seeded women's player Henin advanced into the third round with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.
The Belgian, bidding for her seventh major title, broke Pironkova's spirit midway through the final set.
"I know I have to work hard because I know a lot of surprises can happen, even if it looks easy," Henin said. "You have to be careful all the time."
Former Open champion Safin, crowd pleaser Ana Ivanovic, No. 8 Tommy Robredo, No. 10 Marion Bartoli, No. 11 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 14 Elena Dementieva, No. 17 Carlos Moya and No. 19 Sybille Bammer also won in straight sets.
"Hopefully, it'll continue this way and keep it short," Safin said after beating Frank Dancevic of Canada 7-5, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7).
Tim Henman, playing his final Grand Slam, also advanced. The unseeded Brit beat No. 27 Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Venus Williams wasn't bothered by the six double-faults or the 20 total unforced errors she had to overcome in a 6-4, 6-2 second-round victory over Ioana Raluca Olaru of Romania.
"I missed a few shots that were easy, but ultimately, I mean, it's important to get to the next round. I always feel like my game will be there. I'm not stressed out on a few shots," said Williams, who won the 2000-01 Opens.
Her sister Serena, also a two-time title winner here, got to the third round by defeating Maria Elena Camerin of Italy 7-5, 6-2 at night.


Updated : 2021-05-06 08:10 GMT+08:00