New York: Rafael Nadal glided into the third round of the US Open on Wednesday as smoothly as the new roof over Arthur Ashe stadium slid shut for the first time during a match.
Two-time champion Nadal, seeded fourth, defeated Italy's Andreas Seppi 6-0, 7-5, 6-1 to book a meeting with Russian Andrey Kuznetsov for a place in the round-of-16.
The new $150 million roof was called into action for the first time when light rain began falling in the second set. The giant structure took only a few moments to close before Nadal and Seppi resumed their match beneath it.
"Play was suspended at 10:38 pm and resumed at 10:46 pm — total suspension of play was 7 minutes and 22 seconds," said a statement by the US Tennis Association (USTA). "The roof closed in 5 minutes and 35 seconds. The closing occurred prior to Nadal serving at 3-3 in the second set. He won the first set 6-0. Rafael Nadal has the distinction of hitting the first practice and match ball under a closed roof in Arthur Ashe Stadium."
Nadal was delighted with the distinction. "It's great to be the first player to play with the roof closed, on the competition, because I was the first player to hit in the center court with the roof closed," said Nadal, who found "no big difference" on the court with the roof closed.
"With the roof open there is no wind at all, so it's not a big change. And the roof is so high you don't feel that you are closed. I didn't feel the change. It's great. It's an unbelievable, unbelievable court," he said.
One thing Nadal did notice about the massive stadium was the noise of the crowd, which also got to French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in her upset loss to unsung Latvian Anastasija Sevastova.
"That surprised me," Nadal said. "There was a little bit more noise than usual."
He didn't think it changed when the roof was closed, but said he found it "a little bit too much" at some moments during the points. "I always love the energy and the noise of the New York crowd," he said. "It's just fantastic. I feel very close to them because I play with a lot of passion, and they give me that electricity, that passion."
Nevertheless, he'd like to see a few more rules enforced to keep people in their seats during play. "I know it's so difficult because the court is very big," he said.
As for his own game, Nadal was encouraged by his performance, although he said the 6-0 first-set score flattered him. "The last forehand of the match was great," said Nadal, who was sidelined after pulling out of the third round of the French Open with a left wrist injury until the Rio Olympics. "I hit some good forehands down the line again. That's an important shot for me."