Nadal downs Istomin in straight sets

Rafael Nadal was only marginally better than Denis Istomin on Friday night, but he was always better when it mattered most in a 6-2, 7-6 (5), 7-5 victory that made him the last man to push through to the third round.

On a pleasant night at Center Court where Hurricane Earl spared Day 5 at the US Open, Nadal came out firing and earned consecutive breaks against an erratic Istomin to easily take the opening set.

The next two sets were a different story with the pride of Uzbekistan keeping Nadal off balance and under pressure, forcing the world No. 1 to come up with some clutch tennis to keep himself in front. But Nadal saved every break chance he faced and reached 134 miles on the radar gun with his serve.

"That is pretty strange because I wasn't serving really very well, really until two days before the competition," Nadal said. "I changed a little bit the grip, about five or six inches up. I felt like when I didn't have free points and I needed that. So I tried to play a little bit more aggressive."

The first pressure moments came at 3-all in the second when Istomin earned his first two break point chances of the match. The 15-40 point was classic Nadal, rallying from behind in the point to take the offensive and end the point with a winner. Next he reared back and sent a big serve out wide that Istomin got a racket on but not much more. Nadal held, and then held the rest of the set without dropping a point.

Istomin saved a break point at 5-all and the set went to a tiebreaker.

Nadal's streak of service points ended at 14 when, on his first serve of the breaker, he got a short ball and sent it long. With Nadal serving at 1-4, Istomin played the point of the match, reaching out to backhand Nadal's serve back into play and playing enough defense to stay in the point until he rushed forward to reach a drop volley and lofted a cross-court winner.

Istomin would not win another point in the tiebreaker. Trailing 5-2, Nadal returned the favor by playing a super return and scampering on defense until coming up with a backhand volley to win the point. An Istomin drop shot into the net on the next point put the tiebreaker back on serve. Nadal took the next point on a friendly drop off a net cord. On set point, Istomin got a short ball and smashed it in the net to give Nadal a two-set lead.

In the on-court interview, Nadal admitted, "I probably got a little lucky in the second-set tiebreaker."

To his credit, Istomin stayed in the match mentally in the third set. And again he was the first to put pressure on the other's serve. This time Nadal dug out of 0-40 and saved a fourth break point with an ace before holding.

At 4-all, Istomin got himself one last break point when he guessed right on a Nadal overhead at 30-all and won the point with a backhand winner down the line. Nadal promptly serve&volleyed to save the break point before holding again.

Istomin finally cracked trying to serve it into another tiebreaker, hitting the last shot into the net to end it.

The last ball beat midnight by nine minutes and now Nadal can focus on his next opponent, Gilles Simon, who he will face in the next round. But he's not letting himself think too far ahead.

"I am not really thinking about winning this tournament because there are five matches to go," he said.

Match Facts
- Nadal won an astounding 72 percent of his second serve points.

- Istomin earned seven break point chances, but did not convert any.

- Nadal was three-for-six on break point chances.


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