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Rafael Nadal outclasses Marin Cilic in a battle of former U.S. Open champions


The fourth round matchup under the lights of Arthur Ashe stadium was one of pedigree Monday night. Three-time U.S. Open champ Rafael Nadal and the 2014 surprise winner Marin Cilic traded their best forehands for four sets as Nadal bullied his way to a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory. He will play Diego Schwartzman in a quarterfinal match on Wednesday.

Nadal, who was rooted on by Masters’ champion Tiger Woods, controlled each of the three sets he won, winning two break points in each of the sets and holding Cilic’s first serve at bay with his tireless return of serve.
Cilic tried his best to put up a fight in a helter skelter first set. Cilic, who had 40 unforced errors on the night, committed three of them in a row serving at 2-1 and was subsequently broken by Nadal. Cilic immediately returned the favor and broke Nadal to get back on serve, but serving at 3-2, Nadal secured a second break and eventually took the first set 6-3.
In the second set, Cilic tightened up his game, committed fewer errors, and played with a bit more of the verve that won him the ’14 title. He protected his serve, and when he got his lone chance to break Nadal, he capitalized, which was the key to his set.
Rafael Nadal makes a seemingly impossible shot on match point to advance to the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
Rafael Nadal makes a seemingly impossible shot on match point to advance to the U.S. Open quarterfinals. (Jason DeCrow/AP)
Unfortunately for the 6-5 Croatian, Nadal took his game up another level midway through the third set, and it outclassed Cilic from there. Nadal was increasingly turning defense into offense, leaning back into his forehand to find those impossible angles which demoralizes opponents.

In one exchange, Nadal found himself on the backfoot and Cilic pounded him with an overhead smash, but Nadal took that and got not one, but two Cilic smashes back over the net, turning the second effort into a cross-court winner that got the crowd on its feet.

That seemed to deflate Cilic a bit and the match never really felt competitive from that point on. He added to his own woes by tossing in a double fault on break point during the first game of the fourth set.
As the last moments of the match played out, Nadal gave the fans a parting gift when he wrapped a forehand around the post for a winner, which brought about the loudest moment of the night inside the packed Arthur Ashe stadium.