NEW YORK—Three quick thoughts from No. 2 Rafael Nadal's 6-2, 7-6, 6-2 victory over No. 8-seed Richard Gasquet in the second U.S. Open semifinal on Saturday.
1) This was every bit the turkey shoot you would expect of a match that Nadal entered with a 10-0 edge. Nadal dominated on serve (only one break point conceded, his first in 88 service games), in the return game (4-for-4 on break-point chances) and at net (22 of 28 points won). What's more, Nadal wasn't doing this to some top-25 hack who had no business making it this deep into the draw. He was abusing Gasquet -- the ninth-best player in the world. A man who had won back-to-back five setters — the first against Canada's Milos Raonic, one of the game's most automatic servers; the second against Spain's David Ferrer, the hardest fighting player outside of the top three. Against the rank and file, Gasquet's sturdy serve, immaculate backhand and Astairian footwork would have carried the day. But that alone doesn't beat Nadal. It takes a bit of luck and the nerve to take advantage. Gasquet came upon two such moments in this match: once while facing a chance to break for a 4-3 lead in the second set, and again later in the set when he forced a tiebreaker. He essentially blew them both on double faults. Such is the Nadal aura. He is a cut above.
2) What more is there to say about Nadal that hasn't already been said? Jimmy Connors put it best: "He plays like he's broke." (Thanks to CBS's Mary Carillo for sharing that gem on the air.) That attitude — desperation, really — has earned Nadal close to $57 million in the 12 years he's been a card-carrying member of the ATP tour; $7 million of that he earned this year alone. He could add another $3.6 million if he beats Djokovic on Monday—the $2.6 million for winning the U.S. Open plus a $1 million bonus for his back-to-back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati, which clinched the U.S. Open series. We should all feel so desperate.
3) It's enough to make you forget about a time when Nadal was truly desperate, when Djokovic gobbled up every title in sight and kept a weekend residence inside Nadal's head. When Nadal and Djokovic meet on Monday evening, it'll be for an Open-era record 37th time. It will also be to settle a matter between them that's been up for debate since 2009: Quien es mas macho? Nadal's win over Djokovic in the '10 Open final halted a run of three straight Djokovic beatdowns. Djokovic's victory over Nadal in the '11 final was the sixth of seven straight over the Spaniard. Since then, Nadal has held the upper hand, winning five of the last seven — the biggest coming earlier this year in a five-set French Open semifinal. I know what you're thinking: That was on clay. But Nadal hasn't lost on a hard court yet this summer. With the way he's been playing, he might not lose on the stuff again until next summer. By then, he may be rooming inside Nole's noggin.