Federer Overcomes Slow Start Against Nagal In US Open First Round
Roger Federer did not get off to an ideal start to his pursuit of a sixth US Open title Monday evening. But the third seed won, and that's what counts.
The five-time champion rallied past Nagal 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in two hours and 30 minutes, guaranteeing a record-extending 17th qualification for the Nitto ATP Finals, the season finale at which he has triumphed six times.
"I think trying to forget the first set is never easy I guess in a first round, under the lights. People expect a different result. I expect something else," Federer said. "I just wanted to pick up my game really, start to play better. I was able to do that. That was a relief, going up 3-Love in the second set, realising that it is on my racquet."
Federer has now won his first-round match in 62 straight major appearances, improving his US Open record to 86-13 as he begins chasing his first trophy in New York since 2008.
His opponent, Nagal, certainly took advantage of the opportunity in the biggest match of his career to date. The World No. 190 walked onto Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday evening for his first Grand Slam main draw match without having ever earned a tour-level victory. But the 22-year-old showed little fear against Federer, who made 19 unforced errors in losing the first set.
"I wasn't serving consistently enough. I was hitting double faults that usually I don't do. Also I was just hitting too many unforced errors. I was in two minds, I guess," Federer said. "I was able to clear that a little bit. Maybe it's not a bad thing to go through a match like this. It was very similar at Wimbledon when I dropped the first set there as well in the first round. At the end you look at the last three sets, and they were good. That's encouraging."
But Nagal did not prove to have the weaponry to take the racquet out of Federer's hands. And once the Swiss found his range, he was a train rolling downhill on opening night at the year's final major.
After staving off three deuces in the first game of the second set, the 38-year-old battled hard to gain an advantage, converting his fourth break point of the next game to take the lead. Federer quickly extended his lead to 5-0, before clinching the 42-minute set when Nagal launched a forehand long.
Federer would break immediately in the next two sets, putting constant pressure on the qualifier, who told ATPTour.com before the match, "I've wanted this. I was telling my friends this yesterday. When people told me that Federer plays a qualifier, I was thinking how much I've always wanted this."
Nagal showed his fighting spirit in the fourth set, breaking back for 2-2 with an inside out forehand passing shot that blew past Federer at net. But this year's Dubai, Miami and Halle champion earned another break in the next game when the Indian missed an inside-out forehand wide, and he never looked back. Federer overcame four break points — including a 0/40 deficit — as he served for the match to move on.
The key proved to be Federer's pressure. Once he cut down his errors after the first set, he kept on top of Nagal, winning 33/50 net points compared to 7/17 for the qualifier.
"He loves putting pressure on the other guy," Nagal said. "He's always making you think of what he's going to do, and that's how I felt. Players I have played, I never had this feeling. But what he was doing so good was he was mixing it so well that you have no idea where the ball is coming back. So you always have to react to it."
Federer had lost a set in his first-round match at the US Open just once since 2003 (2017 vs. Tiafoe). The 20-time Grand Slam champion has not fallen in the opening round at a Grand Slam since 2003 Roland Garros.
Damir Dzumhur, who beat French qualifier Elliot Benchetrit 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-0, awaits in the next round. Federer will take confidence knowing he defeated the three-time ATP Tour champion in straight sets at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2015.
Another Swiss was challenged Monday evening on nearby Louis Armstrong Stadium, as 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka needed two hours and 49 minutes to beat #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner 6-3, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.
Sinner, who rallied from the brink of defeat in the second round of qualifying, showed the level that has helped him climb from outside the Top 1,000 53 weeks ago. But Wawrinka's experience paid off in the big moments, converting five of his 10 break chances compared to Sinner's 4-for-14 rate. The former World No. 3 struck 35 winners to advance to the second round for his ninth consecutive appearance in Flushing Meadows.
Wawrinka avoided going five sets, saving two break points as he served out the match. The 34-year-old will next face Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who battled past Winston-Salem Open champion Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-4 after three hours and 13 minutes. Wawrinka has won all five of his FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Chardy.
Lucky loser Kamil Majchrzak, who took Milos Raonic's place in the draw, outlasted Chilean Nicolas Jarry 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 7-6(6), 1-6, 6-4 in three hours and 40 minutes. The Pole will next play Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas, who defeated American wild card Jack Sock 6-4, 7-5, 7-6(5).
Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, who leads the ATP Challenger Tour with four titles this year, ousted Czech Jiri Vesely 4-6, 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 after four hours and 16 minutes. Berankis will try to reach the third round of the US Open against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, who upset No. 19 seed Guido Pella 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 in three hours and 13 minutes.