NEW YORK // Rafa Nadal has given the tennis world another look at the weapon he hopes will help him win the US Open and complete his collection of grand slam titles. The world number has been working hard on his serve in the belief that it holds the key to his chances of finally conquering New York. If his performance on Friday night was any guide, the wait may soon be over. Playing his second round match against Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan at the Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday, Nadal produced an extraordinary display of serving.
It was a high-quality match of power-hitting from both players but he never once lost his serve, which flew fastest across the net at 134 mph (216kph). "For the moment, it's working really well," Nadal said without any sense of understatement. "I going to try keep playing like this." Nadal's victory kept him on course for a semi-final showdown with Britain's Andy Murray but the top professionals never like to talk about possible match-ups. One match at a time is their mantra.
Both are in great form and are yet to drop a set in the tournament. If either was beaten before the semi-finals it would be a surprise. Murray's second-round opponent on Friday was an unorthodox Jamaican called Dustin Brown. The Briton knew little about him but was warned to expect the unexpected. It was good advice but not a great contest, the Scotsman winning easily, 7-5 6-3 6-0. With his dreadlocked hair, sleeveless shirt and baggy shorts, Brown was an instant hit with the centre court crowd but apart from a few fleeting moments in the first set, he was blown away.
Murray, warned that Hurricane Earl was about to dump gallons of rain on the national tennis centre, was in such a hurry to beat the wild weather that never came, that he had to head back out to the practice courts again because he wanted another workout. "(There were) probably two rallies in the match that went past eight, nine shots," Murray said. "So I just went out and hit for 45 minutes just to get a bit of a rhythm."
Friday was not a day for the underdogs. They gave the seeds moments of trouble but the big names in action all prevailed. It has been a tournament bereft of upsets but that has only set the stage for a crackerjack second week. Venus Williams, wearing a sparkling evening dress that would not have been out of place at a Manhattan cocktail party, trounced qualifier Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 6-2 6-1 before hamming it up with her sister Serena in a mock interview with the host television broadcaster.
The defending women's champion Kim Clijsters reeled off 12 games in a row to win her match with the Czech Petra Kvitova while the French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and the grand slam finalists Elena Dementieva and Samantha Stosur cruised to straight-set wins. Clijsters lost the first three games against Kvitova but quickly turned it all around and won the next 12 on the trot in her 6-3 6-0 win. The Belgian Clijsters, who also won here in 2005, struggled with her serve in the windy conditions but still proved too much for Kvitova, the 27th seed, to handle. She has not lost a set in this year's tournament and is steadily improving aspects of her game.
"I think it's only a matter of a few little details I think in my game that I just want to improve," she said. "I'm trying to achieve the perfect match but a match like today gives me more satisfaction because I beat a good player without even playing my best tennis." Clijsters will play the unseeded Serb Ana Ivanovic in the round of 16 with Stosur or Dementieva lurking in the quarter-finals. Stosur, runner-up at the French Open in June and seeded fifth at Flushing Meadows, turned in an impressive display to defeat Italy's Sara Errani 6-2 6-3 in one hour 20 minutes.
The Australian Stosur came into the tournament under an injury cloud but is slowly building momentum and confidence. "Once you get to this point, you never know what can happen," she said. "So if you keep playing well, you can find maybe the semis or finals. If I've been there once, I definitely want to try to be there again." Dementieva, a finalist at the US Open six years ago, booked her passage into the fourth round with a 7-5 6-2 victory over Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova.
The Russian Dementieva won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing two years ago but has never won a grand slam singles title. "I don't put any pressure on myself. I have had a very successful career so far," she said. "I'm definitely looking for the big title, but I'm just trying to work on my game." * Reuters