Rafael Nadal(ESP) vs. Feliciano Lopez(ESP)
Short of actually winning the Open, Sunday was as good a day as Rafael Nadal could have had at the US Open. The greatest obstacle to his run to the final, Andy Murray, fell to Stanislas Wawrinka, and dangerous floater David Nalbandian – who has beaten Nadal twice – fell to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who has never beaten Nadal in 10 meetings.
What’s more, after two relatively tight three-setters, Nadal won a comfortable victory over Gilles Simon, who a) lacks the weaponry to really hurt the Spaniard from the backcourt and b) was distracted by the recent birth of his son.
Now Nadal is into round 4, having not lost a set or a game of serve in three matches. His quarter is now filled with Spaniards, all of whom have overwhelmingly poor records against him. Of them, though, the most unique challenge is probably his next opponent, Feliciano Lopez.
Lopez resides in Madrid and can play on the clay, but he’s no grinder. In June he put on an exhibition of attacking tennis at Queens Club, keeping the top Spaniard off-balance through a combination of hard serving, sliced backhands and well-timed net forays. On the speedy New York courts, this game plan may cause headaches for Nadal.
But unlike at Queens, the world No. 1 isn’t playing just his third match of the season on this surface, and appears to be gaining in confidence. While his serve will never be the biggest on tour, his success in the first three rounds shows how underrated his hold game is.
Nadal should prevail in three tight sets.