Rafael Nadal with his 2017 US Open trophy.

Rafael Nadal defeated David Ferrer by a mid-second-set retirement and advanced to the second round of the 2018 US Open. The World no.1 will now face Vasek Pospisil.

David Ferrer had already announced that the 2018 edition is the last time he is ever going to play the US Open. The 36-year-old Spaniard is planning to retire at some point during the 2019 European clay court swing. Drawing the world no.1 Rafael Nadal would be a nightmare for most people, but his fellow countryman was actually quite happy to play his longtime rival – “I have the luck to face Rafa on Central Court and for me, it’s a prize. At the beginning when I saw it I smiled and turned happy, tennis gave me another gift”. 

Prior to this fortnight, Ferrer won just six out of his thirty meetings with his four years younger friend. However, it was much closer when it came to hard court encounters, where Ferrer stood just 4-5 down (including a win for him at the 2007 US Open).

On the other hand, since their last meeting almost three years ago, they went in completely different directions. Rafael Nadal finished 2017 as the year-end no.1 (including a US Open title) and is well on his way to finishing the 2018 season at the top again. Defending his last year’s win would pretty much seal it for him. Meanwhile, David Ferrer has been steadily declining, finishing the 2016 season outside the top 20 for the first time since 2004. Last year he still had a pretty decent campaign, capturing a clay court title in Bastad and reaching the semifinals at the Cincinnati Masters. The aging hit him really hard this year though, as prior to the match against Nadal, he stands at just 136th in the ATP Race to London Rankings and his current season includes losses against players such as Bradley Klahn, Jaume Munar or Rudolf Molleker.

The best upsets usually happen when the underdog plays as if he had nothing to lose. Ferrer came out with that attitude, and although he managed to hit a few flashy backhand winners, the “hit or miss” game wasn’t really paying out for him. The very speedy pace of the game that the older Spaniard tried to enforce on Nadal seemed to actually suit his opponent better, as the world no.1 was able to retrieve most of Ferrer’s aggressive shots and lure errors. The younger of the two broke in games three and nine to take the set six games to three.

Into the second set, Nadal got broken in the very first game but managed to get back on serve instantly. The 32-year-old Spaniard started getting more and more initiative in points, possibly connected to David Ferrer’s right leg problems, for which he received medical treatment. The intensity of the match went down a lot as Nadal seemed distracted with his older compatriot’s injury and started missing a lot, allowing him to break at 2-2. Ferrer was limping, but one of the things the guy is best known for is his insane heart and will to fight, and he just grit his teeth and went on playing.

Not long, as Ferrer had to retire up 4-3 and serving due to a chronic Achilles injury. He recently told the Spanish press that the ailment is so bad he basically can’t walk the stairs in the morning. The Spaniard took a very humble on court-interview where he apologized the crowd for not being able to finish.

Definitely not a humiliation, it’s a shame Ferrer’s body couldn’t allow him to finish the match healthy, but the two-time semifinalist at the event left the court in style. As for Nadal, despite that second set hiccup, his fellow countryman at least gave him a good fast-paced hitting practice (well, for about an hour). Rafa will now face Canadian Vasek Pospisil, whom he has played just once before (won at the China Open 2015).