A few words, in the context of the U.S. Open, about youth and what’s ahead:
Nineteen-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev won his fourth-round match Monday in straight sets over ninth seed David Goffin of Belgium and declared that he has “nothing to lose” in his upcoming quarterfinal against 14-time major-tournament champion Rafael Nadal.
“Of course he has things to lose,” Nadal said. “He’s young, but at the same time, he’s in the quarterfinals. He has a chance to be in the semifinals for the first time in his career.
“This sport is about victory. Of course you have things to lose.”
Furthermore, Nadal said after his 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 victory over 64th ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, he would happily trade ages with Rublev.
At 19, Nadal said, “you have a lot more years to enjoy the tour, a lot more years to enjoy the life. Better be 19 than 31. I always wanted to be young. Even when I was 8 years old, I was not very happy for my birthday to be 9. I am 31. I am not happy when on my birthday I’m going to be 32.”
For the record, Nadal’s wipeout of Dolgopolov easily was Nadal’s cleanest, most dominating match at the Open so far. He committed only 11 unforced errors and saved the only two break points he faced. He’s gaining momentum.
The halting starts in his first three matches, he said, likely were the result of recent losses leading up to the Open, preying on his mind a bit, making him “more stressed.”
“I tell you, I have been practicing unbelievable good the previous week before the tournament—a very, very high level,” he said. “It’s about being a little bit more relaxed now. Every victory, every set that you win is more confidence.”
But one should not get ahead of one’s self. Prime example: No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem on Monday had a 6-1, 6-2 lead on former Open champ Juan Martin del Potro, seeded 24th, but lost two match points to del Potro aces in the fourth set and wound up losing their rollicking battle when he double faulted on match point at 4-5 in the fifth.
It was just a fourth-rounder. But an exhausted del Potro decided, “I’d like to have the trophy after this fight.”
Stay in the moment. Roger Federer sailed through an evening victory over No. 33 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, never even facing a break point, but Nadal wanted no part of anticipating a semifinal duel with Federer. That would be their first Open meeting, but it’s still one match and three days away, as distant as Nadal would like to keep his 32nd birthday.
“I’m gonna repeat,” Nadal said. “You can ask me about that in two days if I am here with victory, and I will answer you with a lot of great pleasure. I will be very happy to be in that semifinal if that happens.”
If. Not when.