Roger Federer out of touch as he edges past Mikhail Youzhny while Rafael Nadal fights his way into third round

The two heavy favourites for US Open glory were pushed all the way in their respective second round encounters and will need to improve if they are to meet in the semi-finals

Paul Newman
Flushing Meadows
Friday 01 September 2017 09:11
Roger Federer came through five gruelling sets to beat Mikhail Youzhny
Roger Federer came through five gruelling sets to beat Mikhail Youzhny

With Thursday’s schedule in Arthur Ashe Stadium pitting both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal against opponents ranked outside the world’s top 100 tournament organisers at the US Open might have been expecting an early finish.

As it turned out, however, it was half past midnight by the time the last ball was struck in anger. Federer and Nadal are still in the tournament, but after their second-round travails against lowly-ranked opposition it is clear that the two men have much work to do if they are to meet next week in their scheduled semi-final showdown.

Federer had to fight back from two sets to one down to beat Mikhail Youzhny 6-1 6-7 4-6 6-4 6-2, while Nadal was a break and a set down against Taro Daniel before he recovered to win 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2. Federer will next face Spain’s Feliciano Lopez while Nadal will take on Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer.

If Federer goes on to win his third Grand Slam title of the year here he will be only the third man in the Open era to win one of the sport’s four big titles after being taken to five sets in his first two matches. Boris Becker, at the 1996 Australian Open, and Gaston Gaudio, at the 2004 French Open, are the only two men to have performed that feat.

This is the first time in Federer’s Grand Slam career that he has been taken to five sets in the first two round. The 36-year-old Swiss, who beat Frances Tiafoe in his opening match, had beaten Youzhny in all 16 of their previous meetings, dropping just four sets in the process, but looked out of touch for long periods against the world No 101.

Federer, who did not drop a set in any of his seven matches en route to his eighth Wimbledon title last month, made 68 unforced errors and appeared to be heading for defeat until Youzhny started to cramp in the latter stages.

The world No 3 said that the back injury which had forced his withdrawal from the recent Cincinnati Masters had not been a problem but suggested he was paying for a lack of practice going into this tournament.

“I knew I was going to maybe struggle early on,” he admitted. “Maybe I struggled more than I would have liked to. But I'm still in the draw, which gives me a chance. I still believe I'm going to pick up my game and become just more consistent because I'm not playing all that badly.”

Federer looked to be heading out of the US Open after losing the second and third sets

Nadal has been in erratic form ever since he claimed his 10th French Open title in June. Daniel, who had only ever won two Grand Slam matches going into this tournament, surprised the world No 1 in the early stages with his aggressive ball-striking and made the only break of serve in the first set in the ninth game.

When Daniel broke serve in the third game of the second set with a splendid volley it seemed that a major shock might be on the cards, but the 24-year-old Japanese was unable to sustain his momentum. Nadal broke back immediately thanks to a thumping forehand winner down the line and from that moment onwards the Spaniard rarely looked in danger.

Rafa Nadal needed four sets to see off Taro Daniel after going behind early

Nadal broke again in the eight game of the second set and took charge of the third set by breaking to love in the third game. Daniel’s resistance all but ended when he dropped serve on a double fault in the fifth game of the fourth set.

“All the matches are difficult, especially here,” Nadal said after winning a night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium for the 20th time. “Everybody wants to play their best and of course if you don’t play your best it’s very difficult.

Nadal celebrates his victory over Taro Daniel

“For me it was a very important victory. It’s true that I didn’t play very well tonight but at the same time it’s true that I’m through to the next round.”

He added: “I need to improve a lot of things, but I am here to try to improve every day. Tomorrow I will work hard to try to find better feelings. I really believe that I can do it much better - and I really believe that I will do it much better.”

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