Defending champion Rafael Nadal has been forced to work by Andrey Golubev to make it through to the second round of the US Open. Nadal won 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 and set up a second round meeting with Nicolas Mahut.
After falling behind 2-3 in the first set Nadal lifted and broke back immediately before producing an incredible thread the needle style backhand on the run winner to break for a 5-3 lead and a chance to serve for the first set. His improved faster, harder serve from last years Open reappeared but wasn’t enough when his ground strokes lacked consistent depth.
In the opening stages of the second set Rafa’s initial service game saw an uncharacteristic poor first service percentage that ended in him being easily broken to trail 0-2.
While Nadal looked much sharper than he did at the beginning of the hard court season, Golubev went all out and produced some blinding shots but was unable to control his error count. Nadal’s heavy forehand did some damage allowing him to break back to get back on serve at 2-3.
Golubev seemed determined to stay ahead and broke again, this time to love, after Nadal double faulted at triple break point. Golubev then produced some incredible pace and with impressive net play to defend break points in the following game to allow him to go up 5-2.
Nadal struggled to hold to level at 5-5 as he defended more set points as he failed to find the depth needed (as he has all season) to really penetrate the court. Instead he relied on some great serves and the occasional thumping forehand.
Having narrowly escaped losing the set, Nadal smelt blood, breaking the frustrated Golubev and serving for the second set.
The extremely irritated Golubev pummeled everything Nadal threw at him and forced a second set tiebreak. Having had the chance to serve for the second set at 40-0 and then failing again when he had chances on Nadal’s serve, Golubev fell away in the tiebreak and quickly found himself down 6-1 in the tiebreak.
Again Golubev took the early break and a 2-1 lead in the third set and then, with a double break in hand, stepped up to serve for the set at 5-2 and again tightened and was broken as Nadal went after Andrey’s backhand in much the same way he does to Federer.
With a relentless Nadal taking advantage of Golubev’s lack of confidence and leveling at 5-5, forcing his aggravated opponent to serve to stay in the match. After two hours and 49 minutes Nadal hit a huge forehand down the line passing shot to take the match.
In a court side interview Uncle Toni said that Rafa’s confidence levels were not OK and that he felt his nephew wasn’t playing well. After saying he needed to “suffer” in Cincinnati to find his legs after a break this was a good battle for Nadal to win to work himself into form.