Through three rounds at the 2013 U.S. Open, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal has been nearly untouchable.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion has picked up straight-set victories over Ryan Harrison, Rogerio Dutra Silva and Ivan Dodig so far at Flushing Meadows, but will face his toughest test of the tournament so far on Monday night in the form of No. 22-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber.
As noted by tennis journalist Ricky Dimon, the two men have seen their fair share of each other over the past decade:
Kohlschreiber bested John Isner to reach the fourth round, but now the German challenger will also stand toe-to-toe with his stiffest test in New York to date if he wants to reach the quarterfinals unscathed.
In 10 career matches, Nadal holds a 9-1 record against Kohlscreiber. The German got his first win in the series last summer at the Gerry Weber Open, and as noted by LetsTalkTennis on Twitter, has an interesting streak alive heading into the Labor Day match:
Looking for his second Grand Slam of 2013 and fifth straight appearance in at least the U.S. Open semifinals (Nadal did not participate in 2012), here's a closer look at what the 27-year-old Spaniard must do to avoid going home early.
Avoid Looking to Next Opponent
Looking ahead in sports is inevitable—when draws like the U.S. Open's are released, we instantly look to potential matchups with the most intrigue.
One such matchup is a Nadal-Roger Federer clash in the quarterfinals.
The two champions have had more than a few epic battles over the years. Each time their names wind up in the same bracket, fans everywhere flock to the nearest television screen to watch the action unfold.
As this tweet from SuperSport should suggest, there's additional layers to consider if a Nadal-Federer clash is indeed in the cards.
Nadal is likely cognizant and aware that the possibility of facing Federer exists, but peeking ahead too much is the first step toward losing focus on the here and now. Kohlschreiber isn't an opponent to overlook, and Nadal must recognize that ahead of any strategy that favors the future.
Set the Tone in First Set
As the LetsTalkTennis tweet in the intro section suggested, Kohlschreiber has given Nadal problems in each of their five hard-court matches.
By taking a set in each of those contests, Kohlschreiber has reminded Nadal that coasting or taking sets lightly will not be tolerated.
It hasn't resulted in a victory, but it has to give the challenger confidence in knocking the door clean off its hinges.
One way Nadal can curb Kohlschreiber's confidence is by making a strong statement in the first set.
Upsets often brew in stages. If you let an underdog hang around long enough, they make you pay. By setting the tone with a strong first set, Nadal can squash any upset chatter early and avoid giving Kohlschreiber any momentum toward moving on.
Continue to Prioritize Service Success
Champions have a tendency to be unsatisfied with their body of work, even with the stats point to that work being quite impressive.
For Nadal, winning all of his service games through three matches has been impressive. In true champion fashion, though, he's both staying humble about his early service dominance while still looking to improve.
Reuters' Larry Fine summed up that attitude in his recent piece on Nadal. To be the best, you must continue to refine the parts of your game that are lacking. Speaking to reporters after his win over Dodig, Nadal was quick to point out that other aspects of his game—not just his serve—have led to a spot in the fourth round.
"It's working because I am playing well from the baseline. It's working because I am serving with the right percentage. It's working for the first three matches. We'll see if I am able to keep working," Nadal said, via Fine's report.
Nadal has won 81 percent of his first-serve points, good for sixth in the tournament so far. He's been even better with a double fault on the line, winning 66 percent of his second serve points—only Andy Murray has been better.
All facets of Nadal's game will need to come together to ensure a U.S. Open victory. Taking it one match at a time, though, the Spaniard can get past Kohlschreiber without worry if he follows this blueprint.
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