Rafael Nadal ditches knee tape and digs deep to reach US Open quarter-finals
The world No. 1s fitness was under the microscope after he required medical attention during his epic third-round clash with Russian hotshot Karen Khachanov on Friday – a match where he had his right knee strapped up on court.
There was no sign of the tape as he emerged to face his Georgian opponent but he will no doubt be frustrated at being forced into a fourth set, as Basilashvili raised his level dramatically from the third onwards.
Few would have expected Nadal to lose this one and the result never really felt in doubt during a 6-3 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 win, but avoiding further damage to his problematic knee felt essential in order to keep his hopes of defending a hard court title for the first time alive.
Thats not to say the extra time on court will certainly make the difference between him winning an 18th major or not, but Nadal will no doubt feel this match could have been a lot shorter.
The top seed will go on to meet Dominic Thiem in the next round – in a rematch of the French Open final – with the Austrian beating Kevin Anderson earlier on Sunday.
After his 7-5 6-2 7-6 (7-2) win over the South African, Thiem will contest a first Grand Slam quarter-final outside of Roland Garros – and will look to truly test the condition of Nadals body.
By the fourth game, Basilashvili had already bettered his previous best effort of games won against Nadal with two service holds and looked far more equipped to provide a challenge than his 6-0 6-1 6-0 defeat at Roland Garros in 2017.
Despite the Georgians stark improvement, it was rather inevitable that Nadal would break and he soon wrapped up the first set.
Disaster struck for the 26-year-old as he was broken at the start of the second set and the match already seemed beyond him.
Basilashvili managed to make a dent in the Nadal serve as the third began, with the Spaniards movement looking a little laboured, but he was immediately pegged back. However, his level didnt drop and he pushed the 32-year-old all the way.
The Georgian was rewarded for his tenacity in the breaker and he forced Nadal into a fourth set – one he no doubt wishes he didnt have to play.
Fresh off the high of taking a set off the world No. 1, Basilashvili was brought crashing back down to earth as Nadal broke at the start of the fourth.
Though the Georgian snatched it back to level for 3-3, Nadal broke again with a trademark running forehand and held on to unconvincingly reach the quarter-finals.