FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The ball gleamed like a yellow splotch of paint popping off a blue canvas as Denis Istomin streaked forward, his eyes riveted on the ball. Skidding into a sliding split, Istomin somehow dug out a winner, popped up from the court like a jack-in-the box and pumped his fist furiously seizing a 5-1 strong hold in the second-set tie breaker against Rafael Nadal tonight.
It was one of the most eye-popping points of this Flushing Meadows fortnight. Istomin left a long black skid mark across the court and Nadal applauded in appreciation for his opponent’s efforts.
Then the top-seeded Spaniard took off the gloves, elevated his intensity even higher and reeled off six straight points to post a highly-entertaining 6-2, 7-6(5), 7-5 victory to roll into the US Open third round.
There’s the physical demands of playing Nadal compounded by the sheer demoralizing fact that even after you give all you can give and hurl your body around the court with abandon, Nadal responds with even great intensity and concentration.
“He fought a good point. He played a great point,” Nadal said of Istomin’s efforts. “I had to win that point three times before, but he did well. Finally, he ws fast going for the drop shot and he pass me. Just a tough point for me…But I think I stayed very well mentally in that moment. I was playing with big calm and big concentration. And finally, I was a little bit lucky for sure. (It) is impossible to come back from 5-1, I had a little bit lucky. It was a very important moment of the match.”
It was Nadal’s 16th consecutive Grand Slam victory and sets up a third-round meeting with Gilles Simon, who topped 29th-seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber, 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Nadal has beaten the 42nd-ranked Frenchman in three of their four meetings, including a 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 win in the 2009 Australian Open quarterfinals.
The Nadal serve was a key stroke tonight. He struggled at times on serve in Cincinnati, but saved all seven break points he faced tonight and smacked a 134 mph serve, the fastest serve he’s hit at the US Open.
Asked how he’s found his service rhythm, Nadal replied: “Well, (Uncle) Toni arrives and everything under control.”
“Seriously, I don’t know,” Nadal added. “That’s pretty strange because I wasn’t serving very well the previous days. I started to serve well one or two days before the competition. But the week of practice, I wasn’t serving well, no?”
A slight grip change seems to have remedied that issue.
“I changed a little bit the grip, like five or six days ago, because I felt when I played against the wind I didn’t have free points,” Nadal said. “So I needed that. So I tried to play the serve a little more aggressive. For the moment, it’s working really well so I am going to try to keep playing like this. And sure, serve is like big confidence for my game.”
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.