A slow start for Rafael Nadal in his US Open second round match against Taro Daniel saw him trail by a set and a break to the unheralded Japanese, but he increased his level of play as the match progressed, clinching the win in four sets in a little under three hours. Despite not playing his best tennis, Nadal seemed to have found his best forehands in the latter stages of the match and now sends himself into the third round where he will face lucky-loser Leonardo Mayer.
Daniel shocks Nadal to take the first set
A rather great start to the match for Daniel saw him earn a break point in the first game with some incredible offensive tennis, but he failed to convert as Nadal stepped up his game at the crucial moments, claiming the confidence-boosting service hold in five minutes. This time, it was Daniel who had to fend off a break point as Nadal’s forehands were amazing during the early stages, but was still not enough to help him claim the break as the Japanese got onto the scoreboard. It soon became a high-quality encounter with both players playing some great tennis, especially for the unheralded Daniel who pushed Nadal to his limits.
The world number one could have earned the first breakthrough as he earned a couple of break points in the eighth game, but Daniel ignored all his nerves and pressures and played some bold offensive tennis against the top-ranked player in the world, constantly attacking the Spaniard’s forehands with his powerful groundstrokes and eventually held his serve to level the scores at 4-4.
Nadal would rue his missed opportunities as Daniel capitalized on his chances in the next game, with the world number one hitting a forehand error on break point to gift him the break. Serving for the first set over the world number one in the world’s biggest stadium, the Arthur Ashe Stadium, is never easy for an underdog. However, despite hitting a double fault on his first set point, Daniel eventually served out the set after 53 minutes of play, looking at his best.
Nadal fights back from a set down to level the match
Carrying over his momentum from the first set, Daniel threatened to break serve in the opening game of the second set but was unable to find a break point as Nadal let out a huge “Come On” after securing the nervy service hold. The Japanese faced his first challenge in trying to back up the first set victory, and he showed that the set was no fluke when he played some incredible tennis to save a break point and held serve in the second game. A powerful backhand winner brought up a break point opportunity for Daniel, and some amazing consistency on his groundstrokes allowed him to break serve, leading by a set and a break.
Nevertheless, Nadal was finally sixth time lucky as he became more powerful at the baseline, breaking straight back to return level on serve. Winning eight of the last 10 points, Nadal looked comfortable for the first time in the match as he started to attack the forehand of Daniel, forcing errors out of them.
The Spaniard’s deep return position did not work well as Daniel was able to be ultra aggressive, which eventually helped him hold his service games. Nadal finally started to find his groove and broke serve for the second time to take a 5-3 lead. The Spaniard then comfortably served out the second set, leveling the match at one set all.
Nadal strolls to clinch the third set
Daniel made a confidence-boosting start to the third set as he easily held his serve to love in the opening game. However, Nadal stormed back to claim 12 of the next 15 points as he broke serve to love and consolidated the break, jumping out to a comfortable 3-1 lead as his baseline game looked to be unbreakable at this point in time.
A huge unforced error on the drive volley from Daniel saw the world number one take a double-break advantage, with the third set all but sealed up for the Spaniard. Winning 10 straight points on his serve, Nadal eventually clinched the third set 6-2 after just 33 minutes of play.
Nadal seals the win in just under three hours
The first four games of the fourth set were routine service holds for both players, but it was Daniel who blinked first as he threw in an unexpected double fault on break point which only brought himself more trouble as Nadal soon extended his lead to two games, looking dominant in his service games.
The Spaniard soon returned to his vintage self as his forehands looked incredible in the latter stages of the match, helping him to get a double-break advantage and earned the chance to serve out the win as well. Unforced errors from the world number one helped Daniel earn two break points in the final game but Nadal’s top-notch tennis was simply just ruthless, and he eventually clinched the win in four sets having battled for a total of 2 hours and 53 minutes.