Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Defending Champ Nadal Cramps After Fourth Round Win
NEW YORK — For a period in the first set of their match Sunday in Arthur Ashe Stadium, it appeared that David Nalbandian might be able to pull the upset of defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal.
Or at least make it interesting.
Dictating the pace of play from the baseline and attacking at net when opportunities arose, Nalbandian broke Nadal in the fifth game and served for the first set at 5-4.
“The key of the match was the first set when I had the chance to come back at 5-4 and he was serving for the set,” Nadal said.
Nadal broke Nalbandian back when the 29-year-old Argentine double-faulted on break point and the defending champ ultimately won the first set in a tiebreak en route to a tough 7-6 (5), 6-1,7-5 victory in 2 hours, 39 minutes that propelled him into the Round of 16.
After the match on a hot and humid day, during the Spanish portion of his interview session, Nadal flashed a pained look on his face and slid down in his chair in the interview room because of a cramp in his leg.
“I cannot move the leg,” he told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez after the incident occurred.
Then he joked, “If that happened in the locker room, nobody knows nothing.”
When asked what he must do to treat the cramp between now and his next match Tuesday, the defending champ replied, “Just drink, that’s all.”
Andy Roddick, who won in straight sets on Ashe after Nadal’s match, said it was no big deal for the defending champion.
“I mean, I saw Rafa and he was laughing about it later on,” Roddick said.
Sunday was a tough day for Argentines at the Open. In addition to Nalbandian losing, Juan Ignacio Chela fell to American Donald Young and 2009 Open champ Juan Martin del Potro was ousted by Gilles Simon of France in four sets, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (3).
“I have what I feel little sad now because I just lose,” said del Potro, who beat Nadal and Roger Federer back-to-back en route to the title two years ago. “But I think my comeback is a good shape. I’m keep trying to improve my game.”
Nalbandian certainly had the game and experience to take out Nadal, the winner of 10 Grand Slam singles titles.
He has reached the semifinals of all four majors, and appeared in the 2002 Wimbledon final. He lost to Roddick in the semis here in 2003, and Roddick went on to win his only major that year.
But Nalbandian has battled a slew of injuries over the years.
He retired in the second round of the Australian Open in January due to illness, then injured his groin and tore his adductor while playing for Argentina in the Davis Cup in March. That required surgery, which kept him out until June.
“He’s a great player, fantastic player,” Nadal said. “I’m very happy to see him back on the court. I wish him all the best. He had a hard time with some surgeries. He’s a close friend, so all the best for him in the future.”
Against Nadal, he committed 60 unforced errors against 36 winners. Nadal hit 22 winners to 18 unforced errors.
“I think I played the best match of the tournament for me,” said Nadal, who is now 17-7 since winning the Open a year ago to complete the career Grand Slam.
Five of those losses have come this year in finals to Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seed here and Nadal’s potential opponent in the final.
After losing the first set in the tiebreak, Nalbandian all but disappeared in the second set.
“He just went away,” John McEnroe said on CBS.
At 1-all in the second set, Nadal called for the trainer to have his foot taped.
“Nothing, no,” he said of the reason. “It was a very hard day. It was little blister, that’s all. Nothing important. I am lucky.”
In addition to the blister on his foot, Nadal also burned two fingers at a Japanese restaurant earlier this summer. He says the injury is heeled, but he still tapes his right index and middle fingers.
“He’s a a great fighter,” Nalbandian said. “He’s going to fight every day.”
Asked if he though Nadal was playing well enough to defend his title, Nalbandian added: “I believe that Rafa can improve a little bit more even during this week. Today was a little bit windy. I think he can play better.”
After trailing 2-5 in the third, Nalbandian fought back and broke Nadal in the ninth game and then consolidated to tie it at 5-all.
Nalbandian held a break point on Nadal’s serve in the next game, but Nadal tracked down a drop shot by racing forward and passing Nalbandian at the net.
Nalbandian hit one of his seven double-faults on match point.
“What makes really, really, really difficult match is he’s a fantastic player,” Nadal said.
Next up for the defending champ is a match Tuesday with Gilles Muller of Luxemborg, who advanced over Igor Kunitsyn of Russia, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Assuming Nadal were to win, he could face either No. 5 David Ferrer or Roddick in the quarterfinals. Both advanced Sunday.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.