Rafael Nadal’s nose was just fine. So was his tennis. No stitches or even a bandage, 48 hours after he drew blood by accidentally smacking himself with his racket — and not a trace of trouble, as usual, against Richard Gasquet. Nadal improved to 18-0 against Gasquet across their careers and ran his head-to-head set streak to 34 in a row by winning their third-round matchup at the U.S. Open 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 on Saturday night.
After No. 2 seed Nadal grabbed the initial nine games, Gasquet finally claimed one 70 minutes in. When a 97 mph serve drew a netted return from the 22-time Grand Slam champion, Gasquet raised both arms as the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd feted him with a standing ovation.
Things reverted to form from there between the two 36-year-olds for the remainder of that set, with Nadal’s groundstroke power and placement too much for Gasquet, who used to be a top-10 player but is now ranked 91st. Only in the third set did Gasquet make things more competitive, getting to 5-all, before Nadal take the last two games to improve to 22-0 in Grand Slam matches in 2022.
Next for Nadal comes a matchup on Monday against No. 22 Frances Tiafoe, an American who reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows for the third year in a row. Nadal is 2-0 against Tiafoe.
“Now I believe I can beat him. … I’m definitely going to come after him,” said the 24-year-old Tiafoe, who is from Maryland.
The key? “Match his intensity from the first point to the last,” Tiafoe said after getting past No. 14 Diego Schwartzman 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4. “You can’t really have any dips. He takes advantage of it.” Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June, then got to the semifinals at Wimbledon before pulling out of the grass-court tournament because of a torn abdominal muscle.
Before coming to New York in pursuit of a fifth championship at Flushing Meadows, Nadal tweaked his service motion to ease the strain on his midsection, lowering his toss so as not to reach as far on the swing. The adjustment has not hurt his effectiveness.
And neither did the bizarre mishap in a second-round victory over Fabio Fognini on Thursday, when Nadal’s racket bounced off the court and up into the bridge of his nose on a backhand follow-through. He was left bloodied and dizzy and worried he’d broken his nose. “A little bit bgger than usual, but it’s OK,” he said with a smile after eliminating Gasquet. “The nose is still there.”