Rafael Nadal has a chiseled face, a passionate following of mostly female fans and a new two-year contract to be a billboard model for Tommy Hilfiger underwear.
What he doesn't have at this critically late point of the season is a Grand Slam victory. And if he falls short of winning it here at the U.S. Open this week, it will mark the first time since 2004 that the 29-year-old Spaniard has played a season without having won a Grand Slam event.
Nadal, who missed last year's Open with a wrist injury but won the tournament the year before, is far from the dominating player he once was. That was on obvious display Wednesday in his second-round win over Diego Schwartzman. The 14-time Grand Slam champion has struggled with consistency all season and had to work to put away the unseeded Argentine, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5, in two hours and 41 minutes.
The Nadal of just a few years ago would have easily dispatched a player such as Schwartzman. Instead, after taking a 5-2 lead in the first set, he allowed Schwartzman to battle back and force a tiebreaker. Nadal fell behind 5-3 before wining four straight points. In all, Nadal made 40 unforced errors and was down in each of the three sets.
Nadal, however, took the glass-is-half-full view of the match. "This is important to come back and feel that mentally I am strong enough to play well when I had to play well," Nadal said.
Equally rough for Nadal may have been his postgame news conference during which he was asked about his newest underwear advertisement and was pressed about why he didn't look for some additional coaching help to pull him out of his struggle.
"I'm No. 8 in the world, I'm not 100," Nadal said. "It seems like I'm 200 in every press conference. I'm not so bad."
Nadal, who admitted a week ago he is having his worst season in 11 years, has failed to advance past the quarterfinals in each of the three Grand Slams he played this year.
At Wimbledon, he was upset by 102nd-ranked Dustin Brown in the second round. Tomas Berdych ended a 17-match losing streak against him to defeat Nadal in the Australian Open quarterfinals, while it was Novak Djokovic who ended Nadal's run in the quarterfinals at the French Open.
Djokovic, Cilic advance. In other men's matches, Novak Djokovic took a bit of time to get going, splitting the opening eight games, before reeling off 14 of the remaining 17 in a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory over 52nd-ranked Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria. "From the 4-all moment," Djokovic said, "I played really well." . . . Defending champ Marin Cilic powered his way past Russian Evgeny Donskoy, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5. Fresh off his first-round upset of No. 4 Kei Nishikori, France's Benoit Paire won again, defeating Marsel Ilhan of Turkey, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.