NEW YORK—Coming into his fourth-round match at the US Open, Rafael Nadal had never really been in danger of losing, but he had been tested twice, dropping the first set in his two previous matches.
It was a different story on Labor Day, as the match was never in doubt. The 15-time Grand Slam champion was in control from start to finish, dominating Alexandr Dolgopolov, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1, to reach the quarterfinals in Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2013.
Dolgopolov, ranked 64th, is a former Top 15 player, but the Ukrainian didn’t look like one in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. This match had some definite intrigue, though, as Dolgopolov had taken two of their previous three meetings, and the 28-year-old seemed to have a chip on his shoulder as rumors of potential match fixing in Winston-Salem last month surrounded him.
He was no match for Nadal on this day, though. He gave him a good fight in the second set—sandwiched between two thrashings from Rafa—but it was just a matter of time before the top seed broke and served out the set. And at 4-4, that’s exactly what happened.
After a little more than an hour, Nadal had a comfortable two-set cushion and a clear path to the final eight. Unlike his first three matches of the fortnight, in which he expended a ton of energy, the two-time US Open champion closed this one out in just 1 hour and 41 minutes, and it looked rather effortless.
Nadal’s service games were explosive—he took all 12 of them—and he broke Dolgopolov six times. The underdog actually had two more winners than the world No. 1, but the big difference was consistency: Nadal committed just 11 unforced errors to Dolgopolov’s 39.
Roger Federer, who Nadal could face in the semifinals, looked rusty in his first two matches—going five sets in each—before rolling in his third-rounder against Feliciano Lopez. The Swiss got stronger as the tournament progressed, and his rival followed suit on Monday.
As for that highly-anticipated semifinal clash—the two living legends have never before played at the US Open—it looks more and more like a probability with each passing day.
On Monday night, Federer will play 33rd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, who he’s beaten all 11 times they’ve played. Nadal, one match from the semis, will play unseeded 19-year-old Andrey Rublev for a spot in the final four.
Nadal has never played world No. 53 Rublev, who has upset Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin to reach the quarterfinals.