NEW YORK – The closer Rafael Nadal gets to a potential long-awaited U.S. Open matchup with Roger Federer, the better he is playing.
Nadal easily returned to the tournament quarterfinals for the first time in four years by routing Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday.
Nadal turned in his most powerful performance yet on a dominant day for the No. 1 seeds, and moved a victory away from the possible semifinal showdown with his longtime rival at the only major where they have never played.
“Every victory, every set that you win is more confidence. That what’s I am doing,” Nadal said.
Shortly after top-seeded Karolina Pliskova overwhelmed American Jennifer Brady 6-1, 6-0 in just 47 minutes, Nadal punished an opponent who had beaten him in two of the previous three meetings.
He never gave the unseeded Dolgopolov a chance, breaking serve six times in the 1 hour, 41 minute match.
Nadal hadn’t reached the quarterfinals in Flushing Meadows since the last of his two U.S. Open titles in 2013. He advanced to face 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev, the youngest quarterfinalist since Andy Roddick had just turned 19 in 2001.
Rublev upset No. 9 seed David Goffin 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-3, and will be Nadal’s fifth straight unseeded opponent.
“I am in quarterfinals against a tough opponent now. I need to be ready to keep fighting and play better than today, and that’s my goal,” Nadal said.
Federer was trying to do his part when he brought an 11-0 record against No. 33 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber into their night matchup.
Nadal had dropped the first set in the two previous rounds but he was locked in from the start of his 50th U.S. Open victory, never losing serve and facing just two break points.
“I played bad,” Dolgopolov said. “He didn’t do much today. … I was making mistakes a lot. I was pretty much deciding most of the points.”
The second match of the day at Arthur Ashe Stadium started perhaps a little earlier than expected, thanks to the ease of Pliskova’s victory.
Two days after having to fight off a match point to advance, the Czech ran her unseeded opponent off the court as fans were still just filing into the grounds at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The Czech won 22 of 24 points on her first serve, broke Brady’s serve six times and advanced to face No. 20 CoCo Vandeweghe, who beat Lucie Safarova 6-4, 7-6 (2) to become the third American into the women’s quarterfinals.
“Sometimes you just need to have some of those matches where you can just really get through it. You don’t even know why, but the game improves so much,” Pliskova said. “So I didn’t change anything. I didn’t even practice yesterday. So there is nothing really what I did different. But I just felt much better.”
Pliskova was the runner-up to Angelique Kerber at Flushing Meadows last year and needs to get back to the final in order to remain atop the WTA rankings.
She wouldn’t have much problem if she plays as she did in a nearly flawless fourth-round performance, looking nothing like the player who nearly went home a round earlier.
Pliskova also played the first match on Ashe on Saturday. She dropped the first set and had to fight off a match point in the second before rallying to beat No. 27 Zhang Shuai 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
This time, she raced to a 4-0 lead against an obviously nervous opponent, then won the second set in even more lopsided fashion. She won 25 points to just seven for Brady in the second set.
“I felt like she was playing pretty well today. I didn’t play my best. Maybe I gave her the opportunity to play well,” Brady said. “But, you know, I think she was hitting her spots and her serves well. She came out playing, I felt, like the No. 1 player.”
Former champion Juan Martin del Potro, the No. 24 seed, faced sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem, with the winner getting Federer if the five-time champion can improve his 31-1 record in night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Women’s No. 4 Elina Svitolina played the nightcap against No. 15 seed Madison Keys, who was trying to follow Americans Vandeweghe, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens into the quarters.
The winner of that match will play Kaia Kanepi, who beat Russia’s Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4 to become the first qualifier in 36 years to reach the U.S. Open women’s quarterfinals.
The 32-year-old Estonian is ranked 418th after missing much of the past two years with problems in the soles of both feet and a virus known as a precursor to mononucleosis.