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2010 US Open Tennis: Rafael Nadal Looks Shaky in First Round

Cliff PotterCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2010

NEW YORK - AUGUST 31:  Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a shot against Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia during his first round men's single's match on day two of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The collective sighs you heard last night from the TV commentators, fans and U.S. Open officials did not come from the great display of tennis in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

In reality, they were because Rafael Nadal survived his opening 2010 U.S. Open tennis match against unranked Teymuraz Gabashvili.

Nadal's game against Gabashvili, the 98th ranked player in the U.S. Open and 93rd ranked player in the ATP rankings, was unimaginative at best.

Afterward, Nadal made his excuses. He claimed he was taking it easy. And that the U.S. Open tennis ball was more difficult for him than those used at other Grand Slams. 

"It's the more difficult for me, especially I think because the ball," he said. "The ball is more easy to play for the players when they have the flat shots, no? That's much easier for them than for the topspin players. That's the only thing. But I won Olympics with this ball. I won in Beijing in 2005 with this ball. I can do it."

Whatever the circumstances, the shaky start was something few expected against Gabashvilli.

The highest ranking he ever has achieved is 59th. The highest he has ever gone in any Grand Slam is the fourth round this year on the clay at Roland Garros. Apart from 2006 and 2007, he has never gone past the first round at the US Open.

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We have already lost eight seeds sent home in the first round, scrambling the draws considerably already even before the First Round of the Men's Draw is completed.

Of those in Roger Federer's half of the draw, four are gone. Mardy Fish (19), Novak Djokovic (3), Robin Soderling (5), and Albert Montanes (21) were all stretched to five sets.

Four are gone from the Nadal half of the draw, with Tomas Berdych (7) the highest seed out of the tournament so far. David Nalbandian (31) and Fernando Verdasco (8) were both stretched to five sets in the First Round. And Ryan Harrison, a qualifier, beat Ivan Ljubicic (15) just today.

The results from the Nadal match were not expected by many. Some writers claim he is just saving himself for the later rounds, where he has arguably lost steam due to early aggressive play.

But the reality is that Nadal has not played that well over the past few weeks, and continues to struggle.

It appears that Nadal has been warned that slow play will not be tolerated.

His game is now played at a generally faster pace.

But when the match was still very much in question, Nadal reverted to form last night.

He delayed service on several occasions, bouncing the ball incessantly. Will this be more evident in the later rounds? We will see.

In the meantime, the first match cannot give Nadal fans much hope that he will finally reach the U.S. Open Finals this year.

If anything, the excuses and unaggressive play could signal another early departure. Yet of the two halves of the draw, Nada's half is shaping up to be very weak indeed. 

If the quickly weakening draw does not save Nadal, Federer seems primed for his sixth U

U.S. Open Men's Championship without ever meeting him. And that would be a shame.

And that is The Real Truth.