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Memorable ‘tweener lob helps Nadal get to US Open’s 4th Rd

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NEW YORK — The `tweener lob Rafael Nadal somehow conjured up to get to match point was so spectacular, he was asked whether he’d ever before hit a shot quite like that.

“Well, actually, yes,” Nadal said, nodding and laughing. “Not many times, but I remember one.”

This one certainly was memorable, providing quite a flourish at the end of a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over 47th-ranked Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia on Friday night that put Nadal back in the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the first time since winning the 2013 title.

The owner of 14 Grand Slam trophies, including two at Flushing Meadows, Nadal hadn’t been to the fourth round at any major tournament since the 2015 French Open.

This season, he lost in the first round of the Australian Open. Then he pulled out of the French Open before his third-round match because of a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, an injury that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon altogether and miss about 2+ months on tour in all.

“You need to be patient. You need to take your time, recover, work hard,” Nadal said. “That’s what I did. That’s all.”

Nadal said the wrist, which helps generate all of that heavy topspin on his uppercut of a lefty forehand, still feels pain – but noted that it’s “something that is not limiting my game now. That’s the most important thing.”

He said his forehand is improving, and he’s particularly pleased to be more comfortable hitting that stroke down the line, which opens up space to allow him to hit it cross-court. Against Kuznetsov, Nadal produced 15 of his 22 winners with forehands.

But the shot everyone will talk about was not a forehand. Closing in on victory, Nadal raced toward the baseline to retrieve a lob hit by Kuznetsov. With his back to the net, Nadal lifted himself off the ground and flicked a lob of his own through his legs. His racket then slipped out of his hand, but he leaned over to grab it and eventually took that point.

Afterward, Nadal screamed, punched the air and spread his arms wide, pumping his fists.

“You cannot practice that kind of shot,” he said.

Not everything went so perfectly for Nadal on this evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium. His level dipped in the second set, when he double-faulted five times and was broken twice.

Still, he overcame that blip and came up with a strong close. Not only has he not lost a set through three rounds, but Nadal has dropped only 20 games so far.

It’s the fewest games he’s lost en route to the fourth round at the U.S. Open.

Next comes a matchup Sunday against 24th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France.

“I need to be ready for the match,” Nadal said. “I need to be ready to play my best if I want to keep going.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Top-seeded John Isner wins 3rd Hall of Fame title

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Top-seeded John Isner beat Australian qualifier Matthew Ebden 6-3, 7-6 (4) on Sunday for his third Hall of Fame Open title.

The hard-serving American also won the grass-court event in 2011 and 2012. He has 11th career titles, all at the ATP World Tour 250 level.

“It’s hard to win a tournament,” Isner said. “It’s no small feat to come out here and be the last man standing. I’m very happy about that. It’s been two years since I won a tournament, so I had that weighing on my mind.”

Isner became the second player to win an ATP title without facing a break point since records began in 1991. Tommy Haas also accomplished the feat in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2007.

“I’m very happy with how I played all week,” Isner said. “It was a perfect week and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Ebden was playing his first tour-level final.

“It’s a lot of reward for a lot of hard work, a lot of years of sacrifice,” Ebden said. “It’s disappointing, but at the same time I have to be happy with my week.”

Roddick, Clijsters among Tennis Hall of Fame inductees

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Andy Roddick says jokingly he can now keep Roger Federer from a unanimous selection for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

As a new inductee, Roddick gets to vote on future candidates. He jested ahead of his enshrinement on Saturday that he’ll use it to get back at Federer, who stood in his way during at least four Grand Slam finals.

Roddick joins inductees Kim Clijsters, six-time Paralympic medalist Monique Kalkman and journalist and historian Steve Flink. Tennis instructor and innovator Vic Braden was to be inducted posthumously.

Roddick won one Grand Slam and lost to Federer in the finals four times. He says he doesn’t ask himself what would have happened if he hadn’t come along at the same time of perhaps the greatest player.

He says the first text he got when he woke up Saturday was from Federer. Says Roddick: “He makes it extremely hard not to like him as a person.”