NEW YORK — Locked in a tight test at the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal conjured up an over-the-shoulder, back-to-the-net flick of a volley winner that he celebrated with a leap and punch of the air.
If that wasn't the shot of the match, then surely this was, a couple of points later: a cross-court backhand passing winner off an overhead by his opponent, 2014 champion Marin Cilic, good enough to earn a yell and four fist pumps from Nadal — along with an uppercut from Tiger Woods in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands. Then again, maybe it was the sprinting, sliding, bend-it-around-the-net-post forehand winner to get to match point, which Woods loved, too.
Nadal is looking healthy and hungry at Flushing Meadows so far, and he quickly broke things open against Cilic by seizing nine consecutive games for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory in the fourth round Monday night.
Asked to explain that shot on the next-to-last point, Nadal chuckled a bit and said: "It's easy to describe and difficult to make."
"I hit it well," Nadal said, "but to hit that spot, of course you need some luck."
The 33-year-old Spaniard reached his ninth quarterfinal in New York and 40th at all major tournaments.
The No. 2-seeded Nadal, who retired from his 2018 semifinal at the U.S. Open with a knee injury, will try to get back to the final four by beating No. 20 Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. Schwartzman advanced earlier Monday by eliminating No. 6 Alexander Zverev 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
Nadal is attempting to claim his fourth U.S. Open championship and 19th Grand Slam trophy overall. Roger Federer holds the men's record of 20 majors. The rivals never have played each other in New York; they only could meet in the final this year.
Against Cilic, who entered Monday with a 5-0 mark in fourth-round matches at Flushing Meadows, everything turned shortly after Nadal ceded a set for the first time in the tournament. As it is, he only had played two matches before this one, because his second-round opponent, Thanasi Kokkinakis, withdrew with a bad shoulder.
At 2-1 in the third set, with Cilic serving, Nadal came up with that no-look volley to begin things. After Cilic missed a shot, Nadal's big backhand made it love-40. One double-fault later, that game was over — as, essentially, was the match.
Cilic simply never recovered.
They would go on to play for about another hour, and he managed to grab just two more games.
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