Second seed Rafael Nadal will take on his arch-rival Novak Djokovic from Serbia in the U.S Open final at Flushing Meadows in New York. The Spaniard, who missed last year’s tournament due to an ailing left knee, looked impressive in his semi-final win over Frenchman Richard Gasquet on Saturday afternoon. In what was the eleventh meeting between the two, Nadal emerged victorious in three entertaining sets, winning 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-2 after 2 hours and 21 minutes.
Gasquet was playing in only his second career Grand Slam semi-final, the first one being at Wimbledon in 2007. In comparison, this was Nadal’s 21st appearance in the semi-finals of a major, looking for his 18th final. This coupled by the Frenchman never having beaten the Spaniard in 10 previous attempts, posed a daunting prospect for Gasquet to say the least.
Rafa won the toss and elected to receive. Infront of a capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe stadium with celebrities like Richard Branson, the great Sean Connery and Ben Stiller in attendance, the two Europeans renewed a rivalry that goes way back to when they were 13. And at that time, it was Gasquet who got the better of Nadal. With blustery conditions, the eighth seeded Frenchman got off to the worst possible start, getting his serve broken in the opening game. As very aptly pointed out by Chris Wilkinson in the commentary box, “it’s like giving Usain Bolt a head start in the race”. Nadal, whose serve has been impenetrable throughout the tournament, consolidated the break with a service hold of his own.
The 2010 champion’s intent was pretty clear right off the blocks. Positioning himself further up the court and controlling the points with his viciously spun forehand, Nadal went on to clinch the first set 6-4 in 43 minutes. The second set was a much closer affair. After falling behind an early break at 0-2, Gasquet staged a mini comeback and broke Nadal for the first time this entire tournament courtesy his trademark backhand drive. He went 3-2 up, delighting the crowd with his unorthodox backhand drive volleys and deft touch at the net. He threw everything at the mighty Spaniard, mixing it up with some traditional serve and volley and surprise rushes to the net, gaining Riccardo Piatti’s (Gasquet’s coach) approval from the sidelines.
The set went to a tie-break and this is when the good players are differentiated from the great. Sensing the match getting a bit tight, the 12-time Grand Slam champion went up a gear. A 26 shot rally, the longest of the match, followed by a beautiful half volley pick up by Nadal, gave him five set points. An untimely double fault by Gasquet and Rafa took a commanding 2 sets lead as the afternoon session fell over night time.
Into the third, and the writing was already on the wall for the Frenchman, who did not do a whole lot wrong this match. It was just on the big points that Nadal was so convincing. Just like in the previous two sets, Rafa went up an early break to 3-0, adding to the frustration of Gasquet, who shrugged his shoulders and threw his towel in disgust. Stacking up 35 winners to Gasquet’s 26, the Mallorcan had a 100 percent conversion rate on break points. At 5-2, serving to stay in the match, the Frenchman double faulted twice in a row to send Rafa to his third U.S Open final.