Noise bouncing off the close roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium can make Rafael Nadal feel as if he’s playing in an echo chamber.
Today, the top seed muted an early uprising and nearly blew the lid off the place with his energized response.
In a spirited performance, Nadal repelled lucky loser Leonardo Mayer, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, powering into the US Open fourth round for the ninth time.
The two-time US Open champion raised his record to an ATP-best 52-9 in the final day session on Arthur Ashe Stadium that seeped into night and wasn’t always a smooth operation.
Nadal failed to convert his first 13 break-point chances and wound up delivering on six of 25 break points in the match.
Showing some jitters on break points, Nadal shanked some returns and uncharacteristically even punched his racquet face in frustation at one point. But he kept banging away with determination and once he earned the break, he blew the match open sparking a run of seven straight games.
“I’m very, very happy,” Nadal told ESPN’s Pam Shriver afterward. “I was in a tough situation for a while. I had some break points in the beginning of the second. I don’t know how many break points I had before I converted the first one so it was not a good results.
“I was there mentally, I fight a lot and then I think I played better.”
Serving aggressively, Mayer fended the fourth break point off then zapped his second ace of the game out wide, leveling after four games.
Ratcheting up the pressure again, Nadal earned two more break points in the sixth game, but failed to put a second serve return back into play.
Scattering his forehand, Nadal found himself in a love-30 hole, but answered with four aggressive points, thumping an overhead winner for 4-2.
Stamping a love hold, the lucky loser forced the king of clay to a tie break set for the first time in three career meetings.
A skittish Nadal netted successive shots and Mayer stung an ace for 5-2. On his second set point, the Argentine lashed a service winner out wide.
Denying all six break points he faced, Mayer snatched the 63-minute opening set doubling Nadal’s winner output with 18 winners.
Armed with an ignominious 1-24 record vs. Top 10 opponents, Mayer was suddenly up one set on the world No. 1.
The man who took Milos Raonic’s place in the draw seemed to try to channel the Canadian’s serve at times often banging heavy second serves, while Nadal return was sporadic.
Early in the second set, Nadal shanked a return so badly the ball bounced near into the mezzanine section of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Eighty-five minutes into the match Nadal fended off two break point then let loose lashing a bounce-smash from the baseline he followed with a shout.
Mayer unloaded on another stinging first serve to save his second break point of the second set. Mayer saved three break points earning a hard-fought hold for 3-2. By then he’d denied nine break points, including six on his second serve.
Festering frustration erupted as Nadal dumped a backhand return into net squandering his 11th break point. He punctuated that transgressions winding up and punching the strings of his Babolat racquet. Mayer saved a 13th break point clubbing an inside-out forehand as Nadal’s box was chattering among themselves by his inability to break through.
Finally, the 15-time Grand Slam champion lifted a lob for his 14th break point and when Mayer missed the sideline Nadal unleashed a double fist pump breaking for 4-3.
The break created a chasm as Nadal tore through seven straight games.
“Of course, you are under stress when you see that you have opportunities almost in every game, and you are not able to convert it,” Nadal said. “Yeah, of course, when finally I did it, everything changed. I was able to play more free, to start to attack better with my forehand. I changed more forehands down the line, hitting some good backhands later. I think the level of tennis after that break have been very positive.
“I hope that last three sets can be a good turning point for me because, in my opinion, I played much better today than the two previous days later in the match.”
Rocketing a running forehand winner to cap the second set, Nadal dropped to a crouch and unleashed a flurry of fist pumps.
A fired-up Nadal broke Mayer to start the third set, eventually extending his lead to 3-0. The left-hander won 16 of 19 points played on his serve plowing through 27-minute third set.
The good news for Nadal and his vocal fans was he crunched his forehand with increasing authority and ambition as the match progressed. Nadal finished with 39 winners, winning 19 of 23 net points.
A sensational running forehand pass down the line that nearly curled over the net post helped Nadal break to begin the fourth set.
By then, Mayer, who was playing his seventh match of the event, including qualifying and doubles, was gulping deep breaths of air, but there was no reprieve.
The physical trauma of trying to hang with Nadal in a best-of-five set match caught up to Mayer, who floated a forehand as Nadal scored his sixth break for 5-2.
Credit Mayer for continuing to fight; he broke for the first time after three hours, six minutes. When the Argentine’s finally shot landed wide, Nadal launched airborne celebrating a three hour, 15-minute battle.
“You need matches like this,” Nadal said. “Then now I have the opportunity to compete again, to try to do it well, no? I am in the second week. That’s the important thing. Already won three matches in a row. That’s important news for me.”
While his devastating top spin forehand did major damage after he dialed in that shot tonight, Nadal’s greatest strength may be a lack of a discernible weakness, says his fourth-round opponent Alexandr Dolgopolov.
“I think people underestimate he’s all-around player,” Dolgopolov said of Nadal, who leads their head-to-head series 6-2. “He serves solid. He gives you, like, 70 percent first serves normally. He’s a lefty. He volleys. If you play defensive, he can come in and volley.
“He’s stronger than just the forehand. It’s not only the forehand that is the problem. For sure, the five-set problem is his physical condition. He’s really strong and in a five-setter, it’s tougher to compete with him.”