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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

Andy Murray, Angelique Kerber out in 4th round of Australian Open

2017 Australian Open - Day 7
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) There was some symmetry about the fourth-round exits of top-ranked Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open.

Both had the top seeding for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament. Both went out on the same court and, at least on paper, the same day.

It was tough at the top on Sunday: Five-time finalist Murray lost 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to No. 50-ranked Mischa Zverev in the afternoon match on Rod Laver Arena, and defending women’s champion Kerber lost 6-3, 6-2 to CoCo Vandeweghe in an upset that finished at six minutes past midnight.

It was the first time since the French Open in 2010 that both top-seeded players went out in the same round. In the quarterfinals at Roland Garros that year, Roger Federer lost to Robin Soderling and Serena Williams lost to Sam Stosur.

Murray and Kerber didn’t make it to the second week.

Vandeweghe had never been past the third round at the season-opening Grand Slam, and lost in the first round here last year. But she pounded Kerber with a powerful forehand, clubbing 13 of her 30 winners from that wing.

Kerber saved a match point in the first round last year before winning her first major title, beating Serena Williams in the final. She replaced Williams atop the rankings after winning the U.S. Open.

Murray lost the final here to six-time champion Novak Djokovic last year, but finished 2016 at No. 1 after a strong finish to the season that included titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the ATP Finals.

He was undone by some old-school serve and volley from Zverev, who played the match of his life. He’ll now meet 17-time major winner Federer in the quarterfinals.

In between the upsets was pretty rocky, too. Federer was down 5-1 in the first set against Kei Nishikori but found a way to fend off the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, who was cramping and needed late treatment on his back, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

It was his 200th career win over a top 10 player.

Federer was ecstatic. “It was about staying with him. … almost going down 6-0, I thought `It’s not going to get any worse from there,'” said Federer, on the comeback from six months on the sidelines to repair his injured left knee. “Huge win for me in my career.”

Murray was stunned.

“Right now I’m obviously very down because I wanted to go further in this event,” Murray said. “I’ve had tough losses in my career in the past. I’ve come back from them. This is a tough one.”

Murray’s exit follows the second-round departure of Djokovic, beaten in the second round by No. 117-ranked wild-card entry Denis Istomin.

It’s the first time since 2002 that the top two seeds in the men’s draw haven’t reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and the first time at a Grand Slam since the French Open in 2004.

The absence of Djokovic and Murray certainly opens up it up for others.

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who had his major breakthrough here in 2014, is a growing contender after beating Andreas Seppi 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4). He’ll play a quarterfinal against 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Dan Evans 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

In the bottom half of the draw, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal is the only man still in contention who has won a Grand Slam title.

The top half of the women’s draw is open, too. Venus Williams returned to the quarterfinals for the ninth time with a 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 181-ranked Mona Barthel.

The seven-time major winner next plays No. 24-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-3.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3 and will next play Vandeweghe – they’re both in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the first time.

Kerber’s loss contined a poor run since she won the U.S. Open last September. She’s played seven tournaments without winning a title, only reached one final, and was 5-7 against top 50 players.

The bigger upset of the day, then, was produced by Zverev, the older and apparently lesser-talented brother of Alexander who had never gone past the third round of a major and was appearing at only his third Grand Slam in six years.

Zverev attacked Murray, unsettling his natural baseline game, and won 65 of 118 points at the net.

He made some stunning, lunging volleys on clutch points, but for him it was all a blur.

“It was like I was in a little coma, I just served and volleyed my way through,” Zverev said. “Honestly there were a few points where I don’t know how I pulled it off.”

Murray couldn’t do a lot to counter it.

“It’s the shots he was coming up with when he did come forward.” Murray said. “He came up with some great pickups, you know, reflex volleys especially at the end when it was tight.”

Murray had reached the quarterfinals or better on his previous seven trips to Australia but never won the title – losing finals in 2010 to Federer and in `11, `13, `15 and `16 to Djokovic.

He had not lost to a player ranked as lowly as Zverev at a major since his loss to No. 51 Juan Ignacio Chela here in 2006. It was also the earliest exit by a top-seeded player at the Australian Open since Lleyton Hewitt in 2003.

Murray out in 4th-round upset, Federer advances in Australia

2017 Australian Open - Day 7
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Andy Murray had already been upset by Mischa Zverev, undone by some old-school serve and volley, and Roger Federer was down 5-1 in the first set against Kei Nishikori.

As Sunday stretched from afternoon to evening, the second week of the Australian Open appeared set to take on a drastically different complexion than any in a decade.

Unlike newly-installed No. 1 Murray, though, the long-time top-ranked Federer found a way to fend off his fourth-round rival.

The sum result of back-to-back long matches on Rod Laver Arena was a quarterfinal pairing of 17th-seeded Federer against No. 50-ranked Zverev.

Five-time finalist Murray lost in a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to Zverev, the older and apparently lesser-talented brother of Alexander who had never gone past the third round of a major and was appearing at only his third Grand Slam in six years.

Federer held off 2014 U.S. Open finalist Nishikori, who was cramping and needed late treatment on his back, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

Murray’s exit follows the second-round departure of six-time defending champion Novak Djokovic, beaten in the second round by No. 117-ranked wild-card entry Denis Istomin.

It’s the first time since 2002 that the top two seeds haven’t reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and the first time at a Grand Slam since the French Open in 2004.

“Right now I’m obviously very down because I wanted to go further in this event, and it wasn’t to be,” Murray said. “I’ve had tough losses in my career in the past. I’ve come back from them. This is a tough one. I’m sure I’ll come back OK.”

The absence of Djokovic and Murray from the quarterfinals – the first time since 2007 that at least one of them hasn’t reached the last eight at a major – opens up opportunities.

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who had his major breakthrough here in 2014, is a growing contender after beating Andreas Seppi 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4). He’ll play a quarterfinal against 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Dan Evans 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

On the other half of the draw, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal is the only man still in contention who has won a Grand Slam title.

Zverev attacked Murray, unsettling his natural baseline game, and won 65 of 118 points at the net.

He made some stunning, lunging volleys on clutch points, but for him it was all a blur.

“Honestly, I don’t know, it was like I was in a little coma, I just served and volleyed my way through,” Zverev said. “Honestly there were a few points where I don’t know how I pulled it off.”

Murray couldn’t do a lot to counter it.

“It’s the shots he was coming up with when he did come forward.” Murray said. “I mean, he came up with some great pickups, you know, reflex volleys especially at the end when it was tight.

“He served very well when he needed to … he deserved to win because he played great when he was down, and also in the important moments.”

Seven-time major winner Venus Williams returned to the quarterfinals for the ninth time with a 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 181-ranked Mona Barthel.

She will next play No. 24-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-3.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza reached the quarterfinals in Australia for the first time, beating Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3.

Murray had reached the quarterfinals or better on his previous seven trips to Melbourne Park – losing the finals in 2010 to Federer and in ’11, ’13, ’15 and ’16 to Djokovic.

He had not lost to a player ranked as lowly as Zverev at a major since his loss to No. 51 Juan Ignacio Chela here in 2006. It was also the earliest exit by a top-seeded player at the Australian Open since Lleyton Hewitt’s fourth-round departure in 2003.

The younger Zverev brother was in the crowd at Rod Laver, where the bulk of fans were pulling heavily for Murray as the fourth set began, shouting “Come on Andy!” after nearly every point.

Murray was agitated right from the start, hitting into the net early on and screaming loudly as glanced at his players’ box.

Serving at 4-3, Zverev hit two easy shots into the net, including a routine-looking overhead from Murray’s defensive lob, drawing gasps from the crowd.

But as he held on for what turned out to be the biggest win of the year, he gained support with daring play and frequent trips to the net.

After closing it out on his first match point, he walked calmly to the net and clasped his hands together in front of his chest, almost in relief.