Even when Gasquet came forward fast, he couldn’t close the gap on the front-running second seed.
Nadal dispatched Gasquet, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2, to roll into his third U.S. Open final. Continuing his high-energy charge through the hard-court season, Nadal raised his 2013 hard-court record to 21-0 in advancing to his 12th final in 13 tournaments this season. It is Nadal’s 18th career Grand Slam final and sets up a blockbuster title bout against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Monday.
The buzz from Djokovic’s pulsating five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka was still rippling through the crowd; some fans stepped out to refuel, leaving the stadium only about half-full when Nadal and Gasquet got going. It’s a pity, because they each produced some spurts of electric shotmaking. Nadal won the toss, chose to return, and immediately applied pressure, pounding deep returns to break the jittery Gasquet, then backed up the break with a quick hold.
Nadal isn’t rocking the radar gun at the 125 M.P.H.+ speeds he reached while winning the 2010 U.S. Open title, but he’s playing shrewd combinations, cracking his serve into the corners of the box to set up the crunching forehand to high-bouncing heights. He imposed that pattern in fighting off five of the six break points he faced.
When Gasquet put a backhand into net, Nadal broke to start the second set. The hole felt more like a chasm given Nadal’s 10-0 career dominance, the fact he had reeled off 15 straight sets against his former junior rival, and that Gasquet was sometimes displaced so far behind the baseline he could probably pick up the scent of sizzling burgers from the food court. But Gasquet gained hope when Nadal floated a forehand long to lose serve for the first time in 88 games, a streak stretching back to the second set of the Cincinnati semifinals.
Stepping into the court, Gasquet angled off a sharp backhand return winner for double break point. The shot put him within one point of serving for the second set. Serving with buzz-kill intent, Nadal banged a 111 M.P.H. ace out wide, then buried a slice serve into the body to erase both break points, eventually holding for 4-all on successive backhand errors.
The last time Gasquet took a set from Nadal, he dazzled in winning a 14-12 tiebreaker in Toronto five years ago. Today, the tension tightened his arm, and he dribbled a double fault into net to open the tiebreaker, compounding the problem by netting a low forehand volley to fall behind 1-3. Nadal unleashed some heavy uppercut forehands, winning a punishing 26-shot rally—the longest of the match—for 4-1, lashed a 119 M.P.H. serve down the middle for 5-1, and blocked a forehand volley into the open court for a slew of set points. He needed only one. A disconsolate Gasquet dumped his second double fault into net and Nadal was up two sets after one hour and 43 minutes of play.
The eighth seed framed a backhand that soared into the seats, and by the time the ball landed, Nadal had a 2-0 third-set lead. Gasquet, coming off successive five-set wins, was shuffling in small steps behind the baseline like someone calculating the mental mileage required for a comeback—and realizing it was a trip too far. The Frenchman's fourth double fault ended the two-hour and 21-minute match, sending Nadal into his sixth major final against Djokovic. It marks the first time since 1996 the world's top two men and top two women will contest the U.S. Open singles finals.
"He’s a great champion and it will be a tough final for me but I hope to be ready for that," Nadal told CBS' Mary Joe Fernandez.
IBM Stat of the Match: Nadal saved five of six break points and converted all four break points he earned.
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