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BILL DWYRE

Rafael Nadal can make history, if he gets the chance

He can complete a career Grand Slam with a victory at the U.S. Open. But the weather has made his task that much tougher.

September 12, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM NEW YORK — There's a great story waiting to happen at the U.S. Open.

It would be bigger than Melanie Oudin, bigger than a trimmed-down, fired-up, invincible-looking Serena Williams winning again. Bigger than anything John McEnroe might say.

OK, maybe not that big.

On Friday, out of the depressing, drenching mist that hovered over the U.S. Open and washed out play, came the thought that, from adversity comes opportunity. And that opportunity is Rafael Nadal's.

Presented with his circumstances, others would be sulking and scoffing. He has a ready-made excuse to cave in, go home, point to bad luck, a bad draw, even bad karma. It would be understood if he merely told himself to wait till next year.

That could be exactly what happens. Or . . .

His quarterfinal against Fernando Gonzalez began late Thursday night, was delayed once by rain, postponed around midnight and still is more than an hour's work from completion. Maybe much more. He leads by a set and is leading in a second-set tiebreaker, 3-2.

If he wins, he will then have to play a semifinal Sunday against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, the sixth-ranked player in the world, and, winning that, will move into Monday's final to play the winner of the semifinal match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Federer and Djokovic made it to the semifinals Wednesday, and have been sitting around with their feet up since. Nadal and Gonzalez have been pacing the locker room, waiting and hoping. For nothing, as it turned out Friday.

A similar thing happened last year. The remnants of a hurricane were coming in that Saturday, so they put Federer's semifinal on the main court, Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Nadal's against Andy Murray about an hour later on Court 2, Louis Armstrong Stadium. Federer finished before the rain, Nadal did not and had to come back Sunday, when he lost to Murray, who was then blitzed by Federer in the Monday final.

The psychology is overwhelming. Federer, the presumed finalist, has skated through with nary a blip. Nadal, the other presumed finalist, has had nothing but blips.

In the fragile psyche of professional tennis, this is a huge deal. In the parlance of sports fans, Nadal is getting screwed. It's nobody's fault. Just the luck of the draw.

Nadal is also less than 100% physically. He has stopped matches on several occasions to have a sore stomach muscle tended to, and a stomach muscle is an Achilles' heel for a tennis player. Plus his sore knees were a question as this tournament began. But he hasn't quit, and if you've watched him over the years, you will see no indication he ever will.

The reward awaiting him, besides the $1.6-million winning purse?

History.

By winning the U.S. Open, Nadal would become only the seventh man to complete a career Grand Slam, which means winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open at least once in a career. That would put him on plaques with six other legends: Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Don Budge, Fred Perry, Andre Agassi and Federer.

There's another incredible plateau he would reach: Only two people have won all four Grand Slams at least once, plus an Olympic gold medal. That would be Mr. and Mrs. Agassi, Andre and Steffi Graf. Nadal's victory here would make three.

Like most tournaments, everybody wants a Federer-Nadal final. Each has his fans. A victory by Federer, because of his legacy-building, would be a good story. A victory by Nadal would be a fairy tale.

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bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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