Nadal passes test, beats much younger foe at Open

NEW YORK (AP) — Rafael Nadal’s knee was bothering him. His decade-younger, barrel-chested U.S. Open foe was bashing the ball.

The defending champion was two points away from falling into a two-set hole. Then he was two points away from dropping the third set. And then he was one point from losing the fourth set and being pushed to a fifth.

As all of those key moments presented themselves, he managed to come through. The No. 1-ranked Nadal overcame a shaky start Friday and used his customary relentless style to wear down No. 27 seed Karen Khachanov physically and mentally, eventually getting to the fourth round with an entertaining and back-and-forth 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) victory that took 4 hours, 23 minutes.

“I escaped a very tough situation,” Nadal said, “so it’s a great thing.”

The man he beat in last year’s final at Flushing Meadows, No. 5 Kevin Anderson, got through his own tough test against an up-and-coming opponent, edging No. 28 Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

After Nadal ceded the opening set, he had a trainer put tape under his right knee, which has caused problems off-and-on for the Spaniard over the years. Nadal later got more wrapping there during a 10-minute break at 5-all in the second set while the retractable roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium was shut because of light rain.

After they finished, Ashe was the site for Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams, Part 30. Serena won 6-1, 6-2 to match the most-lopsided victory ever over her sister. It was their earliest meeting at a Grand Slam in 20 years.

“It’s not easy,” Serena said, despite how easy it looked in a match that lasted just 1 hour, 12 minutes. “She’s my best friend. She means the world to me. Every time she loses, I feel like I do.”

Earlier, 2017 champion Sloane Stephens betrayed a lot more emotion on that court than she usually shows anywhere, all of the double fist pumps making perfectly clear just how tight and tense things had been during her 6-3, 6-4 win against two-time runner-up Victoria Azarenka.

Stephens, the No. 3 seed, grabbed the last three games after returning from a brief break while the Ashe roof was shut (it was then reopened before Nadal vs. Khachanov).

Stephens went from up a set and 3-1 in the second to down 4-3 when Azarenka took three games in a row. That’s when rain came.

“The man upstairs,” Stephens said, “was looking out for me.”

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