KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Roger Federer could only watch 17-year-old Rafael Nadal celebrate.
As the Spaniard closed in on an upset, he flexed his biceps following one point and leaped behind the baseline after another. And when Nadal put away a volley to complete the biggest victory of his young life, he danced and punched the air.
With a brilliant variety of shotmaking, the big-swinging left-hander from Mallorca beat the top-ranked Federer 6-3, 6-3 in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.
“I was afraid he could win 6-1, 6-1,” Nadal said. “I played almost perfect tennis.”
Federer, the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, lost for only the second time in 25 matches this year. The loss was an upset but no fluke: Nadal has been touted as a future top-10 player and showed himself worthy of the hype.
“He hit some really incredible shots, and that’s what youngsters do,” Federer said. “I’ve heard a lot about him and saw some of his matches, so this is not a big surprise.”
Nadal, the nephew of a professional soccer player, did everything but kick the ball over the net. He smacked winners from both sides, won 13 points at the net and closed out one game with a nifty crosscourt drop shot that brought a roar from the crowd.
When asked about the reaction to result back home, Nadal laughed.
“Right now it’s 4 a.m. in Spain and everybody’s sleeping,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll start getting some calls.”
In other play, former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt lost to Andrei Pavel 6-4, 7-5. Hewitt had 10 double-faults, including three in the final game.
Todd Martin advanced, but fellow American Robby Ginepri was eliminated by Nicolas Kiefer 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4.
Nadal, the youngest player in the 96-man field, improved to 3-1 against top 10 opponents. He also has beaten Carlos Moya and Albert Costa.
The Spaniard took an early lead against Federer and kept it. He won 36 of 48 points on his serve and never faced a break point.
“I served extremely well,” he said. “Probably I never served like this in my life. That was the key.”
Federer’s practice time during the week was curtailed by a bout with the flu, although he declined to use that as an excuse.
“Obviously he didn’t play his tennis,” Nadal said. “If he had played his best tennis, I would have had no chance.”
Nadal became the first teen-ager to beat a top-ranked man since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick upset Gustavo Kuerten in August 2001 at Montreal.
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has had a dominant run lately as he has won seven of the last eight French Open titles. Mary Carrillo thinks we’re in store for a Nadal-Djokovic final.
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