Pagliaro: Rafael Nadal Aiming To Lift Leval At The Open

Nerves, noise and a no-nonsense opponent presented early challenges for Rafael Nadal today.

The world No. 1 silenced all adversaries advancing to the US Open second round for the 13th time with a 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2 sweep of 85th-ranked Dusan Lajovic.

It wasn’t a pristine start as Nadal struggled for control of his twisting topspin forehand, fell behind a break and saw the Serbian contesting his third career US Open match serve for the opening set at 5-4.

The 10-time Roland Garros champion broke back at love and proceeded to drain the strength from Lajovic’s legs and lungs in a match played with the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof closed.

“Tough beginning of the match,” Nadal said. “Some nerves, obviously, after a week here practicing well, I think. I was practicing, I think, every day at very high level, no? Today I didn’t play at that high level, but just like this, important thing is I won, and I have one more day to keep practicing and another chance to play better the next day, no?

“The important thing is win, because is normal that you have some nerves at the beginning and you get a little bit tight at the beginning of the tournament. So important thing is be through, and that’s what I did today, no? Tough start but then I played better, of course.”

Misfiring on his favored forehand at times, Nadal grew stronger as the match progressed and finished with 33 winners against 34 unforced errors.

Racing out to a 4-1 tie break lead, Nadal stumbled a bit as Lajovic fought back to 5-all. The Serbian, who had played virtually the entire set from the baseline, attacked for one of the few times but shoveled a drop volley beyond the baseline handing Nadal set point.

Still, closure was complicated. Nadal spun a double fault into net as his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, gnawed nervously at his fingernails.

Running around his backhand, Nadal lashed a diagonal dagger of a forehand for a second set point. He closed an eventful 64-minute opening set cracking 17 winners compared to nine for Lajovic.

Since winning Roland Garros, Nadal has stumbled a bit suffering an epic Wimbledon loss to Gilles Muller, bowing to 143rd-ranked Denis Shapovalov, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) with a jittery tie break in Montreal then enduring a straight-sets sweep at the hands of Nick Kyrgios in Cincinnati.

Rejoined by former world No. 1 and co-coach Carlos Moya for the Open, Nadal was pleased with is week of practice and now aims to transfer that form to the match court.

“My approach to the tournament obviously is still positive,” said Nadal after his 13th US Open first-round vicotry. “I have been playing well during the whole season, and I really had a very positive week of practice here.

“So I am confident I am ready to play much better than what I did today, and I believe that I gonna do it. But always is tough, as I said before, the beginnings. What happened in Cincinnati was normal. At the same time, is an event I never play very well there, only one time in my career.

“And that’s it. No, no, is impossible to play all the events of the year playing semifinals, final, winning. That’s not possible, no? And even more at the age of 31.”

The question is: Can the 31-year-old Spaniard, who converted six of 11 break points, fine-tune his game through a favorable first-week draw? Next up for Nadal is either young American Tommy Paul or Japanese Taro Daniel.

The first possible seed Nadal could face is 26th-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet, his former junior rival, whom Nadal has dominated on the pro circuit, including a 6-3, 6-4, dismissal in Cincinnati earlier this month.

“I just happy about all the things, how the things are going during the whole year, and now here I am in the last, most important event of the year, and I am excited about playing well here,” Nadal said. “Today I won. That’s the most important thing for me. I believe that I am ready.”

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