Friday proved too soon for the future of tennis to arrive.
Three rising men’s stars challenged the ruling class in thrilling third-round matches, but none prevailed.
Karen Khachanov, 22, pushed the top seed and defending champion, Rafael Nadal, for 4 hours 23 minutes, but ultimately could not complete his fourth-set comeback, falling, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3).
Denis Shapovalov, 19, took last year’s runner-up, Kevin Anderson, even further, but could not convert any of his five break points in the fifth set and lost, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Taylor Fritz, 20, held several leads midway through his match against the 2018 French Open finalist Dominic Thiem, but could not sustain any in a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-4 loss.
Nadal had won his previous four matches against Khachanov with ease, not dropping a set. But Khachanov made his presence known immediately on Friday, striking early and often on Nadal’s serve.
“I study him; I try to get ready,” Khachanov said. “Of course, he knows me as well, what I like to do, how I like to play. That’s why I think the match was great. I prepared better, let’s say.”
Khachanov broke Nadal in his second service game, and again late in the first set before serving it out at 7-5.
Giving himself as much time to react to Khachanov’s serve as possible, Nadal often stood with his back practically against the wall as his opponent prepared to serve. The effect was split: Nadal was able to return 72 percent of Khachanov’s serves, but Khachanov hit 22 aces to Nadal’s zero.
The biggest surprise may have been in Khachanov’s defensive potency. Despite his sturdy, 6-foot-6 build, Khachanov scrambled nimbly, often extending rallies. Khachanov ultimately won 31 of the 53 points that lasted nine or more shots.
“A great opponent,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “I am very happy to be through. I escaped a very tough situation, so that’s a good thing.”
Khachanov hit nine double faults in the match, and they often came in bunches at critical times. He hit two as he fought to force a second-set tiebreaker in the 12th game of that set. He hit three double faults in the third-set tiebreaker, including one at 7-7 that gave Nadal a fifth set point, which he converted. Khachanov then hit two double faults as he dropped serve in the third game of the fourth set.
“You are nervous, anyway, when you play these tight situations,” Khachanov said. “When you are equal in the score or when it’s tiebreaks, you make some decisions very fast. You have just a few seconds to think what you’re going to do, especially when you serve a second serve.”
The longest point of the match proved the most critical: After Khachanov double-faulted to give Nadal an 8-7 lead in the third-set tiebreaker, the two played a breathtaking 39-shot rally filled with jaw-dropping defending from each before Nadal finally forced a forehand error from Khachanov.
“I needed that set, of course,” Nadal said.
After breaking Khachanov early in the fourth set, Nadal made things more difficult for himself when he dropped serve at love as he served for the match.
“That’s tennis, no?” he said, wistfully. “Probably there is things to work on for the next round, but the good thing is I’m going to have the chance to improve it.”
Nadal clinched the chance to play again when he converted his third match point in the fourth-set tiebreaker, with Khachanov missing a backhand return.
Nadal will next face 37th-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, who reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time with a 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4) victory over Guido Pella.
Anderson, who could meet Nadal in the quarterfinals in a rematch of last year’s final, bailed himself out of danger with effective serving throughout his win in 3:34 over Shapovalov. Though he hit only 11 aces, two fewer than Shapovalov, Anderson was effective at hitting his spots, with 46 percent of his serves unreturned.
“Definitely have more experience than him,” Anderson said of Shapovalov. “Maybe that helped me in certain moments. But I had to definitely use all of it to get through today. He definitely didn’t make it very easy for me out there.”
In the first match played under a closed roof over the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, Anderson broke Shapovalov early in the fifth set with a strong backhand down-the-line return that Shapovalov could not send back. Anderson then held on, fending off five subsequent Shapovalov break points.
“I gave it all I had,” Shapovalov said. “Nothing to regret from it.”
Thiem exorcised demons of his fourth-round collapse against Juan Martín del Potro last year on the Grandstand court with his four-set win over Fritz, turning the tide in a topsy-turvy third set. Thiem thrashed his racket with several thwacks into the hard surface as Fritz raced to a 3-0 lead, punishing the bad-luck court after a Fritz forehand dribbled over the net cord for a winner.
“Pumped myself up with maybe not the best ways,” Thiem said. “But still, I pumped myself up.”
The destruction proved cathartic. Thiem leveled the set at 4-4, then won it in a tiebreaker.
Fritz was broken five times.
“I think my serve is one of my best shots, so I was disappointed,” he said. “I was up a break twice in the third and wasn’t able to win the third set.”
The ending was not straightforward. Serving for the match with a comfortable 5-3, 30-0 lead in the fourth set, Thiem suddenly hit three double faults on the next four points, and also threw in a backhand unforced error. The ghost of his collapse a year ago flashed before him.
“Juan was appearing again,” Thiem said.
Juan did not stay long; Thiem broke back in the next game to finish the match.