NEW YORK—Recovery can be a painful proposition when Rafael Nadal practices it.
Dashing to his left to dig out a full-stretch forehand, Nadal was on the defensive when he reversed course. Sprinting to the opposite sideline, Nadal lofted a backhand lob that curled cruelly over Rogerio Dutra Silva’s head and dipped right inside the baseline, eliciting a roar from the crowd and resignation from his opponent.
When Nadal wasn’t busy giving his Dutra Silva the runaround, he played over his head brilliantly, rolling into the third round with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 rout. It was Nadal’s first U.S. Open night match in two years, and he wasted little time pulling the plug on the 134th-ranked Brazilian.
Moving fluidly and tormenting Dutra Silva with vicious topspin drives, Nadal earned triple break point in the opening game. Though Dutra Silva survived that game with a hard-fought hold, there was no escaping the barrage that followed as Nadal won five of the next six games. Despite playing a solid opening set, Dutra Silva faced the demoralizing fact he managed to win just two games as Nadal won 16 of 20 points played on his serve.
You’ve got to be a tough guy to fight off cramps and a two-set deficit—and seven match points—in winning a 12-10 fifth-set tiebreaker, as Dutra Silva did in the opening round against Vasek Pospisil. But Nadal doesn’t just beat opponents to the ball, he beats them up with the weight and angle of his shots. Repeatedly spreading the court to send the Brazilian into side-to-side sprints, Nadal drained the strength from the qualifier’s legs, attacked his one-handed backhand, and spent the 92-minute match generally creating mayhem and misery for his opponent.
Dutra Silva’s lone break point came in the second game of the second set. Nadal slid a slice serve wide; Dutra Silva took a big swing on his backhand but drove it into the top of the tape, as Rafa eventually held for 1-all.
It was lights out after that, as Rafa reeled off 11 consecutive games. When Dutra Silva slapped a double fault into the net to end the 31-minute second set, he walked slowly to his court-side seat with slumped shoulders, looking like a man who staggered by the enormity of the challenge ahead.
Nadal's serve grew stronger as the match progressed: He displaced Dutra Silva with the wide serve, winning 12 of 14 points played on his serve in the third set. The aforementioned improvised lob gave him the break for a 4-0 third-set lead; Dutra Silva’s will was broken long before it landed. The victory raised Rafa's record to 55-3 in 2013, including a 17-0 mark on hard courts.
“To play more and more aggressive is something we’re trying to do, but it’s a mental thing,” Nadal told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert after the match.
Next up for Rafa is a third-round clash with Ivan Dodig, who stunned Nadal at the 2011 Montreal Masters, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), and beat another Spanish left-hander, Fernando Verdasco, in the opening round.
IBM Stat of the Match: Nadal hit more than three times as many winners as Dutra Silva, 30 to 9.
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