Georgia’s leading tennis player Nikoloz Basilashvili has been praised for his performance in the US Open round of Last 16 by the World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, following their three hours, 20-minute match in New York on Sunday.
The 26-year old, Tbilisi-born athlete reached the fourth round in a major competition for the first time to face the famed Spaniard on the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Their encounter ran for four sets, with the first two going in favor of the Mallorca-born 17 Grand Slam title-winner 6-3, 6-3.
But the Georgian displayed his unwillingness to concede the match after winning a tiebreak to take the third set 6-7.
Nadal then came back in the fourth set to win 6-4 and claim the encounter, before noting it was a “very tough” test.
“[Basilashvili] was hitting the ball very strong. Seems like I was not in control of the point even when I was hitting good shots”, the top-ranked Spaniard told reporters after the game.
The fixture marked a major improvement against Nadal for the Georgian player, who lost 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 to the fearsome opponent at the 2017 French Open.
It is also another highlight of a career year for Basilashvili, who marked his all-time highest career ranking of World No. 33 earlier this year.
He also became the first Georgian to win an ATP World Tour title in July, taking the silverware of a competition in Hamburg.
The combination of a jolted Nadal and an empowered underdog added much spice to the start of the fourth set. And even though Nadal broke Basilashvili’s serve in the opening game, the atmosphere by that stage was vastly different. Basilashvili had found the groove, transformed from mouse to dragon. Having hit only 19 winners in the first two sets, he cracked 23 in the third, 14 in the fourth. Even as Nadal methodically continued to hold serve, the threat remained that Basilashvili could catch blow smoke.
Even when serving at 3-5, 30-30, Basilashvili struck a 112-M.P.H. ace down the T and a backhand winner, forcing Nadal to serve out the match at 5-4.
“He was always able to come back,” said Nadal.
Unable to finish at this exact stage versus Khachanov on Friday, today Nadal reached 40-love and then went with Lefty Play 101: a wide slice, which turned out to be a 106-M.P.H. ace.
Said Nadal, “I found a way, but it was a tough one.”