NEW YORK: Cheered on by golfing giant Tiger Woods, second seed Rafael Nadal powered into the last-eight of the US Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Croat Marin Cilic.
An animated Woods was on his feet, clenching his fist when the Spaniard came back from a second set slump to make his 40thGrand Slam quarterfinals, where he’ll play the 20th-seed Diego Schwartzman.
“It’s a huge honour to play in front of all New York fans, but to play in front of Tiger is a very special thing,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “I’ve always said I don’t have idols, but if I did, I would have to say that it is him.”
I try to follow him, every single shot through the whole year. For me it’s a pleasure to have him here supporting me. He’s a big legend of sport, one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. I want to congratulate him for one of the most amazing comebacks of sport ever when he won the Masters this year.”
In the stands, Woods allowed himself a smile.Nadal, who has a mean golf game, with a single digit handicap, said he hadn’t asked the American for advice.
“Honestly, it’s much better if Tiger doesn’t see my swing. Maybe he would lose a little bit of rhythm after that,” the Spaniard said as the Arthur Ashe stadium broke into another round of applause.
In the women’s draw, Belinda Bencic, who had faced World No.1 Naomi Osaka twice this year, losing just one set in both those meetings, had looked at the fourth round clash, quite simply, as just another match. “I was focused on the game, not the hype or the occasion or the stadium,” Bencic said of her 7-5, 6-4 win that took her back to the US Open quarterfinals after a gap of five years.
On a day when the skies opened up and the roof was rolled over at the Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums, it wasn’t mind over matter. It was mind games.
Bencic, who had just 12 unforced in the match, said the stage suited her style of play, chess on a tennis court, plotting moves, creating openings. The controlled conditions of an indoor arena which the closed roof affords allows her to work the ball without the elements coming into play.
“I adapt to my opponent. That’s how I play. I don’t have the biggest power, don’t have the most winners or most aces, but I can read my opponent’s game well,” Bencic said.“I was taking the ball early and anticipating well.”
At 22 years of age, and only a few months older than Osaka, it feels like Bencic has been around forever. She first made the US Open quarterfinals five years ago, on her debut, when Osaka hadn’t even made the qualifying field here. Injuries woes, however, punctuated her career. In the spring of 2017, her left wrist went under the knife, she was out of the sport for five months and her ranking dropped out of the 300-mark.
Bencic said, “All true athletes have to overcome obstacles, injuries, tough times. It made me a stronger person, better player.”
The Swiss, who has posted more top-5 and top-10 victories, 13 in all, than any other player on the WTA Tour this year, said her serve is her most improved shot.