In the tunnel before taking the court against defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal, Andrey Golubev, the reigning ATP comeback player of the year who is struggling through a nightmare season that included a 17-match losing streak, was asked what was wrong with his game.
Nothing, he suggested. It was his head that was giving him trouble.
He needn't have given the verbal warning. Over the next three hours, the 24-year-old from Russia would give a demonstration on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
On a night when Rafael Nadal was vulnerable, Golubev failed to convert seven set points in the middle set and blew a two-break lead in what would end up being the final one. Nadal ended up winning in straights, 6-3, 7-6, 7-5. The 10-time major champion was broken six times during the match, once more than he was in the entirety of the 2010 tournament.
Golubev was noticeably tight after building a 40-0 lead at 5-3 in the second set. He was indecisive in between the net and the baseline, attempted winners he shouldn't have and shanked his impressive one-handed backhand off the frame of his racquet.
In the next set, Golubev got out to a 5-2 lead before falling apart in two service games and dropping five straight games to lose the match.
It wasn't like Golubev didn't answer the bell after getting knocked around by Nadal. In that second set, he broke back at 5-6 to force a tiebreak. And staying in the match in the third set was impressive enough on its own. The McEnroe brothers, calling the match for ESPN, figured the match was done after Golubev folded in the second.
Can you call it a choke? Not exactly; Golubev was playing against Rafael Nadal after all. Far better players have blown opportunities against the man who will go down as one of the sport's all-time greats. The pressure got to him. Like he told us, there was nothing wrong with his game.
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