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Nadal eager to move up gears after slow US Open start

 

By Paul Newman

Rafael Nadal is used to facing stubborn Serb opposition at the US Open, but Dusan Lajovic is no Novak Djokovic. Lajovic had the unenviable task of taking on Nadal in the Spaniard's first match since he recaptured the World No.1 position last week and rarely looked capable of delaying his progress for too long. After a slow start, Nadal won 7-6 6-2 6-2 to secure a second round meeting with Taro Daniel or Tommy Paul.

           

Roger Federer, who beat Lajovic in the second round at Wimbledon last month, admitted that he had felt more nervous facing the Serb than he had in any of his other matches this year at the All England Club, but it is hard to imagine why.

Although the World No.85 is a competent performer, he does not have the weapons to trouble the very best.

Lajovic, who had not gone beyond the first round in either of his two previous appearances here, had his moments in the opening set, but once Nadal had negotiated that hurdle, the World No.1 never looked in trouble.

With rain stopping play on all other courts at Flushing Meadows, the two men were grateful for the retractable roof which now protects Arthur Ashe Stadium during inclement weather.

Nadal, who had dropped only four games in winning his only previous meeting with Lajovic at the French Open three years ago, started confidently enough, winning his first service game to love, but in his second the Spaniard was broken.

Having gone 0-40 down, Nadal saved the first two break points but made an unforced error on his forehand on the third.

Lajovic served for the opening set at 5-4, but the moment seemed to get to the Serb, who was broken to love after three successive errors. In the tie-break, Nadal double-faulted on set point at 6-5 but won the next two points, upon which he clenched his fist in celebration.

Two breaks of serve saw the Spaniard race into a 5-1 lead in the second set, which he eventually clinched with his fifth ace.

He broke again in the opening game of the third set and eventually secured victory after two and a quarter hours.

"It was tough at the beginning," Nadal said afterwards. "He was playing well, not making many mistakes. I felt that he was in control of the point too many times. At the end of that first set it was important to make the break back."

He added: "I just need to keep improving. The first round is never easy. You have nerves playing here in this amazing place."

The result means that Federer, who was due to play Frances Tiafoe in the last match of the day, would have to reach next week's semi-finals at least if he is to replace Nadal at the top of the world rankings at the end of the tournament.

Nadal and Federer will meet in the semi-finals if both men live up to their seedings.

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