Nadal to face Fish in U.S. Open quarterfinals

Updated: September 2, 2008, 12:48 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Rafael Nadal withstood his first test at this U.S. Open, shifting into another gear to beat Sam Querrey 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on Monday and match his best result at the tournament that's always bedeviled him.

Playing for the sixth year at Flushing Meadows, the No. 1 Nadal rallied to reach the quarterfinals. He got quite a workout -- and a scare -- from his unseeded 20-year-old opponent.

"Very tough," Nadal said. "Sam is a big player, a big server. He has a great future."

Down 6-5 in the third set, Nadal suddenly flashed the form that won at Wimbledon, the French Open and the Olympics. Hitting harder, grunting louder and moving in closer, he quickly forced a tiebreak and jumped to celebrate.

Nadal won the final four points to take the tiebreak and later served out the match.

"In every tournament you have one bad day, that's the normal thing," Nadal said. "When you are playing not your best, the important thing is to win. I did today."

Nadal's tally of unforced errors was unusually high at 41, and his six double-faults outnumbered his five aces. But he said he was pleased to have pulled out his best shots during the third-set tiebeak, which he won 7-2.

"Probably I am not in the freshest moment in my life, but I am fine," said Nadal, who has won 42 of his last 43 matches in a hectic schedule.

"The important thing is I am there. I am in the quarterfinals. I have a tough match against Fish. I have to play my best for the last part of the tournament," he said.

Ranked 55th, Querrey gave a solid show and became the first player to take a set from Nadal at this Open.

Crowds at Arthur Ashe Stadium love to root for underdogs, especially Americans. The fans in his private box were vocal, particularly the three who had their shirts off and spelled out S-A-M on their chests.

A bit jittery at the start, the 6-foot-6 Querrey boomed 20 aces and showed no fear, trading big shots with Nadal all match long. He drew a standing ovation at the end for his effort and smiled broadly.

"Came up a little short. The guy's too good," Querrey said.

Querrey said he had been beset with nerves in the first set, fearing at one point he faced a three-set drubbing.

"I felt like I played well and it was a good week," he said. "Not the worst thing in the world, going out to the No. 1 guy."

Nadal next plays unseeded Mardy Fish, who reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the first time with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 32 Gael Monfils.

First Slam at No. 1

The U.S. Open is Rafael Nadal's first Grand Slam as the world's No. 1 player. How men ranked No. 1 for the first time have fared in their first Grand Slam, since 1988:

Player Became No. 1 First Slam Result
Rafael Nadal Aug. 18, 2008 U.S. Open ?
Roger Federer Feb. 2, 2004 French Open Third round
Andy Roddick Nov. 3, 2003 Australian Open Quarterfinals
Lleyton Hewitt Nov. 19, 2001 Australian First round
Gustavo Kuerten Dec. 4, 2000 Australian Second round
Yevgeny Kafelnikov May 3, 1999 French Second round
Andre Agassi April 10, 1995 French Quarterfinals
Pete Sampras April 12, 1993 French Quarterfinals
Jim Courier Feb. 10, 1992 French Champion
Stefan Edberg Aug. 13, 1990 U.S. First round
Mats Wilander Sept. 12, 1988 Australian Second round

"If he's aggressive and comes in at the right times, especially on Nadal's backhand, I think he could have a shot," Querrey said of Fish. "He's got to be aggressive and take chances. He can't go baseline to baseline with Rafa."

Playing in his ninth U.S. Open and coming off his upset over James Blake, Fish kept busy as his wedding approaches. He will marry "Deal or No Deal" model Stacey Gardner on Sept. 28 -- she watched from his private box, minus her shiny No. 2 briefcase.

"I desperately wanted to play well here," he said. "Desperately."

Fish matched the best Grand Slam result of his career, having reached the quarters at the 2007 Australian Open. Ranked as high as No. 17 in 2004, the 26-year-old Fish has worked three years to recover from an injured wrist that required extensive surgery.

Fish waved to his private box after match point. The entourage included his father, Tom, who celebrated his birthday. No such fun for Monfils, who turned 22 on Monday.

Fish was in command the whole way despite putting less than half of his first serves in play. He rushed the net at almost every opportunity, pressured Monfils and won many points with overhead slams.

"I knew I had to keep the points short," Fish said. "I'm never, ever going to beat someone like that from the baseline."

Monfils was unable to stop Fish's charge. The only interruption came late in the second set when Fish gave the evil eye to three fans who lingered while finding their seats behind him, briefly delaying play.

While Monfils was seeded and Fish was not, they were hardly separated in the world rankings -- Monfils was 33rd, Fish was 35th.

Also advancing: No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who ended the run of Kei Nishikori, the first Japanese man to reach the U.S. Open's fourth round in the 40-year Open era. Del Potro won the contest between teens 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 for his 23rd consecutive victory.

Del Potro will face No. 6 Andy Murray, who beat 10th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. Tempers flared when the two played in Rome in May.

Murray claimed del Potro insulted his mother during a first-round match. Judy Murray provided vocal support for her son from the stands.

Del Potro nearly hit Murray in the head with a ball in the second set. The Argentine retired while trailing 5-7, 6-4, 1-0.

Murray was asked Monday if he was surprised del Potro hadn't tried to clear the air.

"I've known him since we were really young," Murray said. "Doesn't really bother me. I wasn't great friends with him before. I don't need to be friends with him now.

"So, no, I'm not surprised."

Murray, who reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinals at Wimbledon earlier this summer, dominated Wawrinka in every department of the game, racing to victory in 1 hour, 49 minutes.

"It's always tough playing against one of your friends," Murray said in an on-court interview. "But this is the fourth round of the U.S. Open, it's my favorite tournament, so I had to put friendship aside just for tonight.

"I've played well all summer, I won in Cincinnati and reached the semis in Toronto. Hopefully I can continue in the next round," he said.

Both players had come from two sets down to reach the fourth round but Murray was fresher, serving well and pulling the Swiss from side to side with his pinpoint groundstrokes.

After cruising through the first set, Murray broke once to win the second and twice in the third.

When asked why he preferred the U.S. Open to his home Grand Slam, Wimbledon, Murray had a quick answer.

"Tonight we had the guys from 'Entourage' watch and that's my favorite show," he said. "I love that show and you don't get that back home."

Already ranked a career-high No. 6, Murray assured himself a spot in the top five. He could climb to No. 4 if he advances as far as Nikolay Davydenko.

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Nishikori, 18, was outgunned by del Potro, 19, who extended his winning streak to 23 matches.

Nishikori, in just his second Grand Slam event, had beaten fourth seed David Ferrer in the previous round but found del Potro, who has won his past four tournaments, too tough.

Nishikori led 3-0 in the first set but del Potro won six straight games to take it before moving ahead 5-2 in the second.

Nishikori gave the Japanese fans inside Louis Armstrong Stadium hope when he broke back for 5-4. When he led 40-0 on serve in the next game, it looked like he would level at 5-5.

But del Potro won five straight points to take the set and then broke twice in the third to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time.

"I was a little tired, obviously, and mentally more tired," Nishikori said. "At the same time, he was playing really well. He didn't miss any balls. He was just playing well. I was just waiting [for] his mistake [and] I couldn't use my forehand."

In addition to his win over Ferrer, Nishikori's run to the last 16 included a win over 29th seed Juan Monaco in the first round.

Shuzo Matsuoko is the only Japanese man to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, at Wimbledon in 1995, and Nishikori said his countryman was an inspiration to him.

"He taught me so many things when I was young," he said. "I was like 12, 13. And, yeah, I'm trying to beat his career.

"[I also look up to] Roger [Federer] and Nadal. I like how Nadal plays, and Roger, too. He can do everything and play so smart. That's what I'm trying to be," he said.

A delighted del Potro said he had been concerned when he fell 3-0 behind in the first set.

"He started better than me, but after I broke his serve and then I started to play my game and it was a little easier," he said. "But I did my shots, my game, and finally I won the match in three sets.

"Today he didn't play too good. I'm happy to be in the quarterfinals, but it's a good tournament for him, also," del Potro said.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.