A barrage of blasts sent Rafael Nadal backpedaling behind the baseline.
Retreating at times to repel Karen Khachanov’s disruptive power, Nadal showed no sign of surrender.
Battling back from a set and a break down, Nadal conquered Khachanov 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) in a fierce four-hour, 23-minute fight to reach the US Open round of 16 for the 10th time.
The reigning US Open champion scored his 10th straight win and 25th victory in his last 26 matches. Nadal will face Nikoloz Basilashvili for a quarterfinal spot.
This was a sweaty, pulsating thriller popping with bold shotmkaing from both men, who combined for 85 trips to net.
A relentless Nadal, who played with taping wrapping his right knee, relied on his resourcefulness, raw desire and rousing running forehand down the line to subdue a very dangerous opponent in the longest match of this Flushing Meadows fortnight.
When it was over, both men embraced while an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd stood and saluted them with a sustained standing ovation.
“Personally, I have been a tough situation, have been a great opponent,” Nadal told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert afterward. “I’m very happy to be through a tough situation so that’s a great thing.”
Playing as if channeling a young Marat Safin, a fearless Khachanov fired 22 aces and smacked 17 more winners than the champion (66 to 49).
Standing toe-to-toe with Nadal, Khachanov served for a two set lead at 5-4, but could not close.
Fighting through a rousing 39-shot rally, Nadal converted his fourth set point to take a two sets to one lead.
Still Khachanov wasn’t done breaking the 17-time Grand Slam champion when he served for the match forcing Nadal to finish a severe test in a tie break.
Winless in nine prior sets vs. Nadal, a confident Khachanov thumped an ace cruising through a love hold to back up the break for 3-1.
The depth of Khachanov’s crackling returns elicited an error for break point. The Russian sped quickly to track down a drop volley snapping a backhand pass to break for 6-5.
Storm clouds swelled menacingly overhead as Khachanov cracked his seventh ace for a second set point. Nadal saved it with a flick forehand.
On his fourth set point, Khachanov fired his eighth ace out wide to snatch his first set from Nadal.
The rangy Russian repelled four of five break points taking the 55-minute opener.
A concerned Nadal called for the physio, who wrapped adhesive tape below his right knee during the changeover, while he tried to stitch together a new pattern amid ominous history. Nadal held a 6-7 record when dropping first set in Flushing Meadows compared to a 48-3 mark when winning the set.
The Khachanov forehand is predicated on an elaborate sweeping swing that can create timing issues when he’s rushed. But he thumped that shot with vigor pressing the Roland Garros champion.
Bending a brilliant banana forehand pass down the line helped a leaping Nadal break for 4-all as members of his box jumped in unision.
Celebration was short-lived: Khachanov earned triple break point then caught a break when Nadal over-hit a mid-court forehand scattering the shot wide the man in the backward baseball cap erupted with a primal scream.
The fired-up No. 27 seed would serve for a two set lead.
Nadal was not having it.
Playing some high, heavy and slower backhands to back the big man up, Nadal hit some fierce forehands down the line breaking back with a shout in the 10th game as drizzle prompted referee Brian Earley, ever-present walkie-talkie in hand, to order the retractable roof closed.
Following a 12-minute break, Khachanov was one point from forcing the tie break, when he coughed up a couple of double faults.
A forehand strike down the line earned Nadal set point. Forcing the 22-year-old to come up with a volley, Nadal snatched the second set with a flying fist pump.
Facing the demoralizing feeling of losing the second set he had in control, Khachanov suffered further frustration failing to convert three break points in the opening game of the third set.
Banging a backhand down the line, Nadal earned triple set point in the third-set tie break. The 6’6″ Russian stood tall saving all three break points as the crowd roared in approval.
Digging in near the baseline, Nadal refused to miss. Fending off a barrage of shots to his two-handed backhand, Nadal prevailed in a pulsating 39-shot rally to take the third set.
Midway through the fourth set it seemed the physicality from four hours of intense rallies robbed some strength from the Russian’s legs, but Khachanov would not quit.
Serving for the fourth round at 5-4, a nervous Nadal nudged a volley into the bottom of the net and soon found himself down triple break point. Khachanov cracked a pass breaking back at love. The Russian ripped his 22nd ace taking a 6-5 fourth-set lead.
Staring down a set point in the 12th game, Nadal was in no mood to go the distance.
A tremendous tweener from the Russian extended the point, but Nadal was waiting and his volley forced a fourth-set tie break after four hours, 14 minutes.
Khachanov’s prowess from the baseline prompted Nadal to attack with more frequency as the match progressed: He won 28 of 40 net trips.
The twisting topspin forehand helped Nadal breeze out to a 5-1 lead in the breaker. Another jolting forehand earned him five match points.
On his third match point, Nadal finally sealed this wildly entertaining skirmish in four hours, 23 minutes.
This was a spirited stand from Nadal and he ended it standing right along with the fans applauding Khachanov for a spirited effort.