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Nadal fights on

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – Patience is not a virtue New York finds itself blessed with and Flushing Meadows worked itself into a lather while torrential rain put the brakes on the U.S. Open.

While the crowd spent a miserable Friday kicking its heels and cursing the elements, so too did Rafael Nadal, the man with the most to lose at the hands of the putrid weather.

Yet in the space of 30 clinical minutes on Saturday afternoon, Nadal turned a cruel fate of scheduling to his advantage, disposing of Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets and greatly boosting his overall chances of success.

Nadal and Gonzalez first dueled on Thursday night, before a downpour cut the evening short with the Spaniard holding a 3-2 advantage in the second set tiebreaker after narrowly winning the first.

By the time the men took the court again 36 hours later though, it was a totally different match. Gonzalez lost four straight points to surrender the breaker, then got 'bageled' 6-0 in the third amid a flurry of careless errors and skewed attitude.

So suddenly Nadal had gone from the prospect of an exhausting struggle to a perfect tune-up for his Sunday semifinal with Juan Martin del Potro.

He will still need to play on three straight days in order to lift the title, but now he arguably has an advantage of getting in some court time, while Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic both had three blank days and del Potro two.

Furthermore, Friday's rest enabled Nadal to get treatment on his strained stomach muscles, and his freedom of movement and muscular range looked greatly enhanced on Saturday.

No longer is he a sitting duck, a wounded and exhausted target prime to be picked off towards the end of this event, the only Slam he has never won.

“It helped me to get some treatment and I am fortunate the way it has worked out,” said Nadal. “It was important that I did not have to play for too long today, so I can come back fresh again.”

After a turbulent few months, all is well once again in the world of the 23-year-old.

These have not been easy times for Nadal, with the effervescence of youth and momentum of success no longer enough to appease his ailing body. He was cut down by knee pain and Robin Soderling at the French Open and forced to miss out on the chance to defend his Wimbledon crown.

There is not an ounce of quit in the man from Mallorca, who displays the same intensity and fire that he did as a scrappy 15-year-old with dreams of a pro career.

In the same way that Federer's effortless brilliance and fluidity is a joy to behold, so too is the raw intensity and emotion of Nadal's play.

If it is that constant desire to exhort himself to chase the next ball, the next point, that prevents him from taking his career Grand Slam tally deep into double digits then it would be an awful irony.

Yet it would also be no shock; this year-round sport and its impenetrable grind has claimed its share of victims. Lleyton Hewitt is perhaps the most recent, toppled from the summit of the game by both the emergence of Federer and the loss of the snap in his perennially scurrying legs.

Then there is life itself getting in the way. Just as Federer suffered his worst year when ridden with a condition unrelated to tennis – mononucleosis – Nadal may have had his mindset affected by the reported impending divorce of his parents Sebastian and Ana Maria.

He, maybe more than any other player, has relied on a tight-knit family unit, with his uncle Toni remaining as his coach just like he has since Nadal was six years old.

Nadal doesn't speak about such private things and it is hard to read his mind from his on-court disposition, permanently in war mode.

The only time he has genuinely looked a shell of himself was in New York a year ago, the trials of winning the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic gold catching up with him in a dispiriting semifinal defeat to Andy Murray.

Del Potro will be a challenge in the last four, having knocked off Nadal twice before and with a big-time game suited to the New York conditions.

But Nadal will always have his fight, that inner will that has served him so well. It is that will which told him he could win Wimbledon when an army of doubters and Federer's imposing record insisted he couldn't.

Logic suggests that this title should be beyond Nadal as well, at least this year. Writing him off has been proven a folly, time and again.

If Nadal is to prove the doubters wrong again he will have to play on until Monday. Yet after so much turmoil, this is a prize that would certainly be worth the wait.

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