After a tough match against his compatriot Nicholas Almagro—where Rafael Nadal faced issues with his serve, movement, and a suspect abdominal injury—many speculated about the Spaniard's chances to go deep into the only major which has eluded him so far.
If his fourth-round contest against Gael Monfils is any indication, Nadal has put to rest a lot of these doubters and has roared into the quarterfinals claiming that he is absolutely fit and raring to go.
To add icing on the cake, the 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win has confirmed that Nadal will be able to displace Andy Murray, who was knocked out by Marin Cilic Tuesday, and take back his position as the world No. 2 when the rankings come out next week.
Amidst all the speculation about the severity of Rafa’s injury and the effect that it would have on his career, he has temporarily put these to rest as he played a perfect match by his standards against the tough Frenchman.
Monfils came out all guns blazing right from the start. He was serving big and looked highly motivated with frequent chest-thumping and aggressive gestures. Rafa was made to move all over the court with Monfils' high-velocity forehands, and his attempt at the same were in vain due to Monfils' superlative court movement.
Monfils broke Rafa quickly and took early advantage, but it was in the ninth game when there was an indication that Rafa was truly back. Monfils was broken in an exciting game, and Rafa was clearly energized. He pumped his fists aggressively and yelled out a loud "VAMOS."
Rafa was back!
Yes, Rafa of the old was back—the one who doesn’t keep his emotions to himself, stares his opponent in the eyes, and pumps himself up with "Vamos."
The match went into tie-breaker, but Monfils played fearlessly, pounding huge, flat forehands to take an early lead at 7-6.
The New York crowd, even though they were cheering for Monfils after the set, were all rooting for Rafa—a welcome change from the last two matches. The voices of “Come on, Rafa” could be heard between points and during Rafa’s serving routine.
The second set produced some sizzling tennis, as both players were giving their 100 percent. Monfils—whom I have given the nickname of Flubber—went for his shots right, left, and center, while Rafa showed some of the best defensive game we have seen in some time.
Rafa was retrieving everything that Monfils threw at him, and Monfils was made to work extra hard to earn his points, especially because the level of his serve dropped. He could win only 12 points on his serves in the second set, compared to 26 in the first.
Nadal dominated the second set to win it, 6-3, and Monfils started to wear down due to the extraordinarily high level of his play in the first two sets.
This was Rafa at his best. Wearing down his opponent physically and mentally.
Monfils’ serve became inconsistent, his movement slowed down, and errors started to creep in, as he had no energy to rally for long points. Nadal comfortably won the third set, 6-1, and continued his level in the fourth after breaking him early.
Monfils tried to come back with another break, but Rafa was fresher than he was at the start of the play to get the break back, and comfortably close out the set—and match—at 6-3 in the fourth.
Nadal played an impressive match, serving at 75 percent and winning the same percentage of points on his first serve. The errors to winners ratio is still high by his high standards, but it was better than his previous match, at 24 winners and errors each.
The soon-to-be world No. 2 now faces a stiff task in the quarterfinals, when he will face Fernando “Gonzo” Gonzalez who defeated the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Gonzalez steamrolled Rafa in the Australian Open quarters in 2007. If Gonzo plays anywhere near as well as he did that day, Rafa would be in for a long evening at Arthur Ashe stadium.
For the time being, though, Rafa would be pleased to reach the quarters and relax himself for his next challenge waiting to give his 100 percent yet again.