TENNIS: Surging Nadal breezes into U.S. Open semifinals
NEW YORK — There’s video evidence out there that Rafael Nadal did, indeed, lose a tennis match to Richard Gasquet.
OK, so it was half a lifetime ago, and it was at a tournament in Tarbes, France, for kids 14 and under.
“Last time I beat him, I was 13,” Gasquet said. “It was a long time ago.”
Reminded of that match, Nadal smiled and said, “I lost 6-4 in the third. Yeah, I remember.”
As professionals, it’s been a different story: Nadal is 10-0 against Gasquet heading into their U.S. Open semifinal Saturday.
When Gasquet looks up a clip of that long-ago encounter on YouTube, he said, “I can see I’m winning against him, so I don’t believe it sometimes.”
Based on the way Nadal is playing at the moment, it is hard to believe many players could beat him. A year after skipping the U.S. Open because of a bad left knee, Nadal powered his way back to the semifinals by overwhelming 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 on Wednesday night.
“I’m sure that’s the way I have to play to keep having chances to be successful in every surface, but especially on this one,” the second-seeded Nadal said after improving to 20-0 on hard courts in 2013. “I was able to do it today. I hope to be able to do it in two days.”
He never faced a break point and has not lost a set through five matches. Hasn’t even lost a single service game so far, a run of 67 holds.
This latest win lasted 1 hour, 40 minutes, and it really was over after 22 minutes. That’s how long it took Nadal to dominate the first set, not only winning every game but also 24 of 29 points, including all seven that lasted 10 strokes or more.
“I played great the first set,” Nadal said. “It’s my first set so far this year 100 percent.”
That’s really saying something, considering that he is 58-3 this season with nine titles, including his record eighth championship at the French Open in June.
“He was up very quick,” said Robredo, who is 0-7 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, “and then there was nothing else to do. He was too good.”
The eighth-seeded Gasquet, who was born 15 days after Nadal in June 1986, took a far more circuitous route to his first major semifinal in six years. After needing five sets to get past No. 10 Milos Raonic in the fourth round, Gasquet again went the distance Wednesday, edging No. 4 David Ferrer 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 over nearly 3? hours.
Gasquet might find some hope from knowing he was 1-8 against Ferrer before Wednesday.
Then again, Robredo went from 0-10 against Nadal to 0-11 against him.
“I know he’s the favorite of the match,” Gasquet said about Nadal. “Nobody will say I’m the favorite.”
There’s no doubt who was expected to win today’s pair of men’s quarterfinals: No. 3 Andy Murray plays No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka in the afternoon, while No. 1 Novak Djokovic faces No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny at night.
Aside from the seedings, Murray is the defending champion in New York and also won Wimbledon this year. Djokovic is a six-time Grand Slam title winner, including at the 2011 U.S. Open, and was the runner-up to Murray 12 months ago. Neither Wawrinka nor Youzhny has ever reached a major final.
The women’s semifinals are Friday, with No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 5 Li Na, and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka vs. 83rd-ranked Flavia Pennetta. Williams owns 16 major titles, Azarenka two, and Li one. Pennetta will be making her Grand Slam semifinal debut a year after having right wrist surgery.