Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Nadal easing back to his best

Rafael Nadal showed no signs of his recent injury lay-off with a straight sets win

Rafael Nadal made light work of his opening round match at the US Open, easing past Richard Gasquet in straight sets.

The third seed showed no signs of his recent fitness problems as he claimed a 6-2 6-2 6-4 victory to set up a meeting with Nicolas Kiefer of Germany.

Both players were returning from spells on the sidelines. Nadal has been out of action with knee troubles, while Gasquet recently served a two-and-a-half month ban after testing positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.

Nadal was quick to settle in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and took the first three games with very little trouble.

Gasquet was struggling for consistency though, and a double fault in game eight gifted the opening set to his Spanish opponent.

The world number 46, who had lost all six of his previous meetings with Nadal, at least managed a few big hits at the start of the second set but another mistake handed the third seed a break and a 4-2 lead. Nadal then found himself with set point on Gasquet's serve soon after, and produced a lovely crosscourt forehand to give himself a cushion in the match.

The Frenchman had made 34 unforced errors by this point, compared to just six from Nadal, but appeared to stand his ground much better in the third set.

However, facing two break points in the eighth game, Gasquet again cracked under the pressure and a forehand into the net gave Nadal the advantage.

That left the world number three serving for the match, and he wrapped things up after just one hour and 41 minutes after a long return from Gasquet.

Marat Safin's famously emotional temperament was kept in check as he reflected on his elimination from his last ever grand slam tournament at Flushing Meadows.

The former world number one has announced he will retire at the end of this season but his final US Open outing came to an end at the first hurdle as he lost 1-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 to Austria's Jurgen Melzer at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

The two-time grand slam winner — who announced his arrival as a major force in the men's game with a shock win over Pete Sampras in the final at Flushing Meadows in 2000 — also crashed out in the first round at Wimbledon earlier this year and his current world ranking of 58 underlines the extent to which his star has waned.

His victory in the 2005 Australian Open final was his most recent singles title of any sort on the ATP Tour, and after so long without tasting success the 29-year-old concedes his grand slam exit has not left him harbouring any regrets.

World number 87 Paul Capdeville believes he has every chance of beating number two seed Andy Murray when the old training partners face each other in the US Open second round.

The 26-year-old Chilean used to practice with Murray when the British star was a teenager and both were based at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona.

Now they will meet for the first time in professional tennis, Capdeville having beaten Romanian Victor Crivoi in straight sets on Tuesday with Murray following him into round two at Flushing Meadows with victory over Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

“I practiced with him for one year five years ago and I know him,” Capdeville said. “We practiced for a lot of time and played together.

“He's a different guy now, number two, and he's won a lot of tournaments.

“He's so smart that if you make a shot he'll have a good reaction, he runs very well on the court.

“But I'll try to give it my best shot and I don't see why I can't win.

“Andy's a very good hardcourt player.”