Nadal fist-pumps into last 16; Djokovic, Kerber also advance
Fourth seed Rafael Nadal showed he is healthy and ready to challenge for a third US Open title as he rolled into the last 16 at Flushing Meadows on Friday with a fist-pumping 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.
Erasing any lingering concerns over an injured wrist that kept him out of Wimbledon, Nadal has made a powerful start to the year's final grand slam, racing into the fourth round without dropping a set.
It was vintage Nadal on a warm New York evening, as the energetic Spaniard wore down his 47th-ranked opponent with a breathless work rate and a bombardment of stinging forehands.
Despite the one-sided scoreline, Nadal did his best to keep another large crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium entertained closing out the match in theatrical style, setting up the winning point with a between-the-legs lob that had fans on their feet.
Nadal had them roaring again seconds later as he danced across the court in a succession of fist-pumps.
Rested Djokovic gets another slide
Top seed Novak Djokovic cannot seem able to get a match in at the US Open, as the world number one was given another rapid advance when Russian Mikhail Youzhny retired due to a leg injury when trailing 4-2.
Youzhny was treated during the changeover at 4-1 in the third-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium and had his left thigh taped. He won the next game on his serve but could not continue, giving Djokovic a pass into the round of 16.
The Serb, winner of this year's Australian Open and French Open to complete a career grand slam, came into the match off a three-day break due to a walkover into the third round when Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic withdrew.
It's difficult to pick the words now. I don't think I ever had this kind of situation in my career, where I had a second-round walkover and the third round 30 minutes only," Djokovic said on court before settling in for some practice.
"I'll try to get the positives out of these six games. Obviously I did start very well with a good intensity and I'll try to carry that into the next match."
Defending champion Djokovic will next face either 20th-seeded American John Isner or 84th-ranked Briton Kyle Edmund with a berth in the quarter-finals at stake.
Djokovic, who has been bothered in recent months by a nagging wrist injury, won his opening match at Flushing Meadows on Monday, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 over 247th-ranked Jerzy Janowicz of Poland and is not expected back on court until Sunday.
The 29-year-old Serb was asked whether the long layoff was to his advantage or detriment.
"Depends at how you look at it," he told reporters.
"Considering the stage of the season, the amount of matches I've played, what I've been through with my body, I think it's actually good to have some days off and then shorter matches.
"From the other side, sure, as you are approaching second week of the grand slam you want to have match play and you want to have time spent on the centre court before you face one of the top players."
On balance, Djokovic seems content with his situation.
"I'm not too concerned about my game itself. I've worked hard last couple days. Health-wise, I feel much better than I did at the beginning of the tournament," he said. "I'm confident that everything is going in the right direction."
Kerber crushes young Bellis to reach fourth round
Angelique Kerber, enjoying a breakout season that has her challenging for world number one, crushed 17-year-old American qualifier CiCi Bellis 6-1, 6-1 to reach the fourth round.
Bellis, the second youngest player in the women's field, won three qualifying matches and beat two players within the top 65 in the main draw but her dream run ended in a flood of Kerber winners and a rash of errors from the over-hitting teenager.
The second-seeded German took 55 minutes to close out the Day Five program at Flushing Meadows, nearly doubling the 33 points won by Bellis as she notched her WTA Tour-leading 50th match win of the season.
"Congrats to CiCi. She played a great tournament and for sure she will have a great future," the gracious Kerber said in an on-court interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Next up for Kerber is Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over 22nd seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. Kerber and Kvitova have split their eight career meetings.
Resilient Konta crushes Bencic to reach last 16
Britain's Johanna Konta looked back to full fitness as she swept past Switzerland's Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-1 to reach the last 16 for a second year in a row.
A semi-finalist at the 2016 Australian Open, 13th seed Konta never allowed Bencic into the match, hitting eight aces as she matched her best effort in the season's final Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows.
"I am just overwhelmingly happy," said Konta, who collapsed on court midway through her previous match against Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova before recovering to win 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
"I'm really happy with how I was able to deal with things. Just happy I was able to use whatever energy I had left."
Konta will next play the unseeded Latvian, Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko 6-4, 6-1 earlier on Friday.