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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Nadal wins as Federer says changing of the guard to take a few more years

  • Ageing but in-form tennis star sends out warning to you and upcoming players.
Rafael Nadal, a 15-time grand slam champion, will face 59th-ranked Argentine lucky loser Leonardo Mayer on Saturday for a berth in the last 16. Andrew Kelly / Reuters
Rafael Nadal, a 15-time grand slam champion, will face 59th-ranked Argentine lucky loser Leonardo Mayer on Saturday for a berth in the last 16. Andrew Kelly / Reuters

On a day when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both collected second-round wins, the latter made a bold prediction: the changing of the guard will take a little while longer, so the younger tennis players and the rest of the world will have to wait.

But more on that later.

Nadal battled back after dropping the first set on Thursday to subdue Japan's 121st-ranked Taro Daniel and reach the third round of the US Open.

The 31-year-old Spaniard won his ATP-best 51st match of the year by 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 over the 24-year-old New York native, who fell to 0-4 against top-10 rivals.

"It's a very important victory," Nadal said. "It's true I didn't play very well tonight but it's true I'm through to the third round."

Nadal, a 15-time grand slam champion who captured his 10th French Open crown in June, will face 59th-ranked Argentine lucky loser Leonardo Mayer on Saturday for a berth in the last 16.

Mayer is 0-3 against Nadal, losing most recently in the third round of his 2014 title run at Roland Garros.

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"I didn't play very well but tomorrow I will work hard to find better feelings because I know I can do much better," said Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 champion.

The highest-seeded obstacle in Nadal's path to the semi-finals, and a possible first-ever US Open match up with long-time rival Roger Federer, is Belgian ninth seed David Goffin.

But the tantalising prospect requires three more wins for each of them.

"All the matches are difficult but especially here as everyone wants to play their best and if you don't play your best it will be very difficult," Nadal said.

Daniel, 24, took the first set and traded breaks early in the second with Nadal, serving notice the left-handed legend would have a fight to avoid his earliest ouster on the New York hardcourts since the second round in 2004.

But Nadal won the last four games to capture the second set, parlaying forehand volley and down-the-line winners into the key break in the eighth game, and dominated the third set to seize command.

"I was down a set and a break but I had lots of opportunities so if I keep going and working hopefully I will convert those chances," Nadal said.

In the fourth set, Daniel's fifth double fault handed Nadal a break and a 3-2 edge and the top seed broke again with a forehand winner in the seventh game, then denied Daniel on two break points in holding serve to advance.

Daniel, who ousted US wildcard Tommy Paul in five sets in his opener, missed out on his first trip to the third round at a Grand Slam.

Roger Federer could win the US Open nine years after his last triumph at Flushing Meadows. Robert Deutsch / Reuters
Roger Federer could win the US Open nine years after his last triumph at Flushing Meadows. Robert Deutsch / Reuters

Federer's prediction

Andy Murray has a hip injury, Novak Djokovic is sidelined with an elbow problem while Stan Wawrinka needs knee surgery, but Roger Federer insists it could still be years before the old guard say goodbye to tennis.

While 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov and Andrey Rublev, 19, have kicked the US Open door slightly ajar this week, 36-year-old Federer doesn't see the pair supplanting him or his fellow major kings anytime soon.

"Changing of the guard is going to come at some stage. Could very well be next year. But I still predict it's going to take a few more," said Federer on Thursday after his second-round win over Mikhail Youzhny.

Many see this US Open as the most unpredictable in years.

But highly regarded 20-year-old fourth seed Alexander Zverev and No 7 Grigor Dimitrov both failed to get beyond the second round and that kind of inconsistency has Federer believing that the sport's 30-somethings will still be a force in 2018.

"I'm not sure if 2018 is going to be wide open just because we don't know how a lot of those top guys are going to come back," he said after making the US Open last 32 on Thursday with his 80th career win at the tournament.

"What I think is going to be interesting is that their ranking is going to be all over the place. We're going to see some interesting draws, to say the least."

Federer pointed to the examples of himself and old rival Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open this year.

Injuries and loss of form saw him seeded at 17 and Nadal on nine.

However, they still made the final with Federer winning the title before adding an eighth Wimbledon trophy in July.

Nadal, for his part, claimed a 10th French Open and has since regained the world number one ranking.

"We had a little bit with me and Rafa down in Australia. But now we're talking probably about a bigger group," added Federer of his and Nadal's situation in Melbourne.

"That's going to go down maybe all the way to Murray, as well, depending if he's going to be playing at all for the rest of the season. Got a lot of points to defend.

"If that's the case, he might drop further down outside of the top four, then things are going to look real weird. I think it's going to be very interesting."

Federer needed a second successive five-setter to reach the US Open third round with a 6-1, 6-7 (3/7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over fellow veteran Mikhail Youzhny of Russia.

It was his 17th win in 17 matches against Youzhny in a rivalry stretching back to 2000.

Five-time US Open champion and third seed Federer had also needed five sets to see off US teenager Frances Tiafoe in the first round.

The 36-year-old will face another 35-year-old in Feliciano Lopez for a place in the last 16. His record against the Spaniard is just as solid -- 12-0.

"It was quite a lot of fun out there -- I feel quite warmed up by now," said Federer.