Sore Nadal struggles as Federer cruises on

Rafael Nadal struggled on a sore left knee past unheralded Australian Alun Jones on Wednesday to reach the second round of the US Open, but his bid for a third Grand Slam final in a row appears doomed.

Severe tendinitis slowed the second-ranked Spaniard, who escaped with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory after two hours and 44 minutes over a 123rd-ranked wild card in his first top-level match outside his homeland.

“Maybe if I’m in another tournament, I never go to the court,” Nadal said. “But it is the US Open and it is very important tournament to me.”

Nadal grimaced when the knee was being treated by a trainer after the third set, a sign that the three-time Roland Garros champion could struggle in round two against Serbian Jarko Tipsarevic.

“It’s tough when you can’t play at 100%,” Nadal said. “I didn’t move too much.
I can’t move too much. I tried to move as little as possible.

“But for me, the tournament is not finished. I’m still there.”

Swiss world number one Roger Federer, who defeated Nadal in an epic five-set Wimbledon final after Nadal beat him in the French Open final, advanced to the third round past Chile’s Paul Capdeville 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in 89 minutes.

“I’m very happy the way I played. I think I did well,” Federer said. “I had to struggle a bit through the second set but I tried to stay aggressive and I think it all worked out.”

Federer, seeking his 12th Slam crown and fourth US Open title in a row, is chasing Pete Sampras’s all-time Slam title record of 14. He next plays six-foot-nine American John Isner, who beat South African Rik de Voest 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).

Women’s world number one Justine Henin, Wimbledon winner Venus Williams, Australian Open champion Serena Williams, Serbian third seed Jelena Jankovic and Serbian fifth seed Ana Ivanovic also reached the third round impressively.

But the day’s top story was Nadal’s injury, which he said is not a long-term worry after an MRI. Nadal suffered the setback on Sunday while practising at Arthur Ashe Stadium with compatriot Carlos Moya.

“Two days ago I was so much worse than right now,” Nadal said. “I didn’t move so much but I played. I hope it will improve. If not I will try my best but… “

In the third set, Jones rallied from triple break-point down to hold and pull even, then broke to seize a 4-3 lead as the drama built.

That’s when Nadal (21) had a trainer re-tape his left knee. He broke at love in the next game and won seven more in a row to seal Jones’s fate.

“If I have to go out I have to go out,” Nadal said. “But I’m playing more aggressive and I have to continue playing like this.”

Nadal’s quarter of the draw was eased by the ouster of Chilean seventh seed Fernando Gonzalez, the highest-ranked loser so far. Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili outlasted the Australian Open runner-up 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 5-7, 6-4.

That could also help Britain’s Tim Henman, who kept alive his Grand Slam career by defeating Russian Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Henman, who turns 33 next week, will retire after a Davis Cup tie at Wimbledon next month.

“I felt great out there,” Henman said. “I was obviously going to enjoy it mentally. I played really well as well.”

The Englishman, who had lost five of six prior matches to Tursunov, advanced to a second-round date with France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Belgian top seed Henin, who won her sixth Slam title at June’s French Open, beat 130th-ranked Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4, 6-0 in 68 minutes and plays a third qualifier in a row, Russian Ekaterina Makarova, for a last-16 spot.

“I’m happy the way I won my last two matches, just go step by step and try to build my confidence day by day,” Henin said.

US 12th seed Venus Williams took 69 minutes to oust Romania’s 84th-ranked Ioana Raluca Olaru 6-4, 6-2. Williams will next face Ukranian 21st seed Alona Bondarenko with fifth seed Ivanovic possibly awaiting in the round of 16.

“I missed a few shots that were easy but ultimately it’s important to get to the next round. I think my game will be there,” Venus Williams said.

Williams defeated Ivanovic in the semifinals at Wimbledon last month on her way to the title, but the Serb—who beat France’s Avarane Rezai 6-3, 6-1 and next faces Russian Vera Dushevina—remains confident.

“This is a different tournament, different circumstances,” Ivanovic said. “I feel fitter than I did at Wimbledon. I feel I have a chance.”

Eighth-seed Serena Williams, an eight-time Slam champion, needed 87 minutes to defeat Italy’s Maria Elena Camerin 7-5, 6-2. Next for her is Russian 27th seed Vera Zvonareva.

“I feel a lot better than in my first round. I’m definitely getting a lot stronger,” Serena Williams said.—AFP

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