Smokey smells from barbecue grills in the park spilled into the USTA National Tennis Center.
Cook-outs weren’t the only source of salivation.
On a sun-splashed Labor Day, a hungry Rafael Nadal made quick work of Alexandr Dolgopolov, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1, searing into his seventh US Open quarterfinal.
It was Nadal’s 50th career US Open victory and it was much cleaner then his four-set triumph over lucky loser Leonardo Mayer in round three.
“I think I played a solid match, obviously. Not many mistakes,” Nadal said. “Ifeel that comparing to other days, I feel more calm on court. Is true that I was able to have the break earlier, but really I felt more comfortable from since the beginning, no?
“Most important thing is more times I had the control of the time of the point, you know. Not many balls surprise me. I didn’t hit a lot of balls earlier than what I thought or later than what I thought, something that happened in the first couple of days.”
Moving fluidly and striking accurately, Nadal won 15 of 19 second-serve points, denied both break points he faced and basically beat down Dolgopolov in baseline exchanges.
The world No. 1 joined Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro as one of three former US Open champions in action today.
The prospect of a first-ever US Open clash between rivals Nadal and Federer in the semifinals looms closer.
The 15-time Grand Slam champion will face 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev for a final four spot, while Wimbledon champion Federer faces Philip Kohlschreiber in a fourth-round match on Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight.
The flat-hitting Rublev continued to rock seeds clubbing 48 winners knocking out ninth-seeded David Goffin, 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-3, on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The victory came two rounds after Rublev rolled seventh-seeded Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrovin straight sets. Winning 12 of the 13 sets he’s contested in Flushing Meadows, Rublev reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in just his fifth major.
Rublev looks up to Nadal and the pair have practiced together at Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca.
While Rublev repeated the familiar “I have nothing to lose” refrain about the prospect of facing Nadal, the top seed wasn’t exactly buying that sentiment.
“Of course he’s young, but at the same time, he’s in quarterfinals,” Nadal said. “He has a chance to be in the semifinals for the first time of his career, and I have been there couple of times.
“So of course he has things to lose. And of course I have things to lose and things to win. But I tell you one thing, no, this sport is about victory. This is not about defeats. No, at the end of your career, nobody remember your defeats, your losses. People remember the victories. For everybody is everything to win, you know. And that’s it.”
Nadal, who lost the opening set in his prior match against Leonardo Mayer, came out timing the ball beautifully today. Driving the ball deep to Dolgopolov’s forehand wing, Nadal broke in the third game.
Bending low, Nadal belted an acute-angled backhand pounding out a second break and a 5-2 lead.
The grinder label is affixed to Nadal almost as closely the bull logo he wears on his Nike shoes.
In a more nuanced view, Dolgopolov sees the Spaniard as complete player and was reminded of it when Nadal followed a diagonal forehand forward and nudged a stretch backhand volley to close his opening service game of the second set.
“I think people underestimate he’s all-around player,” Dolgopolov said of Nadal. “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.”
Hooking his second ace out wide, Nadal snatched a two-set lead after 68 minutes.
The serve set the tone.
The two-time champion served 74 percent and won 30 of 37 first-serve points through the first two sets.
Tearing out to a 4-0 third-set lead, Nadal drained any sense of belief from a dazed Dolgopolov. Still, he saved fourth match points.
On the fifth, Dolgopolov netted a backhand down the line ending Nadal’s most dominant match of the fortnight—and his seventh victory in nine meetings with the Ukrainian.
A reunion with Roger looms ahead, but Rafa is focused on refining his form and reinforcing his confidence.
“It’s about being a little bit more relaxed,” Nadal said. “Every victory, every set that you win is more confidence. That what’s I am doing. I am fighting when the things are not going that well and trying to keep going when the things starts to go the way that I want.
“Today was a positive match, of course, but I say the other day, the other day was a very possible match for me too. And I am in quarterfinals against a tough opponent now. I need to be ready to keep fighting and play better than today, and that’s my goal and I gonna try to have the best practice possible tomorrow and try to be ready for it.”