September 1, 2018
Rafael Nadal took four hours and 23 minutes to beat the talented young Russian, Karen Khachanov.
But he might not have won at all.
The underdog led 7-5, 5-4 and 30-0 on his serve as Nadal flirted with US Open oblivion.
But somehow the pugnacious Spaniard turned and tide and took the biggest points in what became a colossal slug-fest of a thriller.
With sheer power and warrior spirit, it seemed, Rafa turned that set around to achieve parity with his own 7-5 success.
But the 22-year-old was demonstrating the type of all-round game that could bag him several Slams in future.
The one thing Khachanov needs to improve is his mental strength. And that should come with experience.
But he lost the mind games at 7-7 in the pivotal third-set tie-break. It was a terrible time to serve a double fault and that ultimately proved costly.
But no one could say Nadal didn’t close out the set in style, with the most memorable point of the tournament so far.
Both players, Khachanov in particular, showed incredible defence and attacking power in a sumptuous 39-shot rally.
But it was Nadal who prevailed, to a standing ovation from a stunned and almost disbelieving crowd.
Rafa showed he was still human when he failed to close out the match in the fourth, and we were all licking our lips at the propect of another breaker.
But Nadal was always in control of that killer contest and took it 7-3 to advance, thanks to his superior handling of those pressure points.
We hoped for a similarly scintillating contest when the Williams sisters played each other.
But Venus couldn’t make an exciting match of it beyond the first few games, as Serena swept her aside 6-1, 6-2.
This is how Serena can perform when there are no debilitating nerves. And there were none in this family affair.
‘It’s the best she has ever played against me,’ claimed Venus.
‘The best since I’ve played since I began my comeback journey,’ suggested Serena, who otherwise seemed to take no pleasure in her moment of triumph.
She will take some stopping now. Serena’s toughest opponent from here? As always, herself.