NEW YORK   -   Rafa Nadal overcame a horrid start and a bloody nose to beat Fabio Fognini 2-6 6-4 6-2 6-1 and reach the third round of the U.S Open on Thursday.

The veteran Italian came out flying to build a set and a 4-2 lead as Nadal struggled to find a rhythm, raising the possibility of an upset like the one Fognini memorably pulled off against the Spaniard at Arthur Ashe Stadi­um seven years ago. Momentum shifted in Nadal’s favour in the third set when he raced down an overhead and crushed a fore­hand down the line to break Fog­nini and take a 4-2 lead.

He broke the fading Fognini again to capture the third set and appeared to be cruising to the finish line when, while lead­ing 3-0 in the fourth set, his racket bounced off of the court and struck him sharply on the bridge of his nose. That led to a medical time out where the 22-time Grand Slam champion lay on his back with his eyes closed as a pink bandage was applied to stop the bleeding.

Nadal regrouped and with the backing of the partisan crowd sealed the win on Fognini’s 60th unforced error to end the ugly affair in which the players com­bined for 15 breaks of serve and 11 double faults. “For more than one-and-a-half hours I was not competing, it was one of my worst starts ever,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “When this happens, hopefully not too often, you have to stay positive and stay patient. The match is long.”

Talking to reporters after the match, Nadal said the blow from the racket left him dizzy and in pain. “Was just a strong hit,” he said. “At the beginning I thought I breaked the nose because it was a shock at the beginning. Was very painful. “Seems like is not breaked. I am not sure yet. I don’t know. I think it’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Next up for Nadal is Richard Gasquet, who defeated Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2 6-4 4-6 6-4 earlier in the day. Nadal is a commanding 18-0 lifetime against the Frenchman.

SERENA IN DOUBLES LOSS AT US OPEN AS AZARENKA WINS GRUDGE MATCH

Serena Williams closed one chapter on her epic Grand Slam story at the US Open while Vic­toria Azarenka triumphed in a politically-charged grudge match. For the first time since 2018, Serena and sister Venus revived the partnership which has brought them 14 doubles titles at the majors.

However, their hopes of col­lecting a third crown in New York were dashed in a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 defeat to Czech pairing Lin­da Noskova and Lucie Hradec­ka. The loss leaves 40-year-old Serena free to focus on what is widely expected to be the final singles campaign of her land­mark 27-year career before re­tirement.

On Friday, the 23-time Slam singles winner will face Austra­lia’s Ajla Tomljanovic for a place in the fourth round. Serena and her 42-year-old sister went down fighting, clawing back from 1-4 down in the second set before the Czech pair steadied the ship.

French Open champion Iga Swiatek cruised into the third round with a 6-3, 6-2 win over 2017 champion Sloane Ste­phens. Sixth seed Aryna Sa­balenka came back from 1-5 down in the second set and saved two match points to defeat Kaia Kanepi, 2-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.