Rafael Nadal called Tiger Woods an “amazing inspiration” as the Spaniard had the golf superstar roaring with approval during a majestic US Open performance on Monday.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion advanced to the quarter-final of a major for the 40th time in his glittering career with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Croatia’s Marin Cilic.
But it was the reaction of Woods, a winner of 15 golf majors, to an assortment of sensational Nadal winners during a crucial section of the match that caught the eye at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
A blistering cross-court backhand passing winner off a Cilic overhead elicited a fired-up fist-pump from Woods, who equally appreciated of an outrageous round-the-net post forehand that brought up match point.
“It means a lot to me to have him supporting. As I said, he’s an amazing inspiration, all the things that he accomplishes in the sport, the way that he managed to keep fighting that hard,” Nadal said.
“Watching him on the golf course has been an example, a real inspiration for me. (To) have him supporting and be able to be in touch with him very often for me is something that I am super happy and I hope one day we can play golf and tennis together.”
Nadal, who like Woods has endured more than his fair share of injury nightmares, looked healthy and hungry at Flushing Meadows, where he is chasing a fourth US Open title after 2010, 2013 and 2017.
“The emotions I have when I play here are impossible to describe. I love the sport and feel very lucky to still be playing tennis here. Eight to 10 years ago, I didn’t think that would happen as my body was suffering badly,” Nadal said.
“It’s a huge honour playing in front of all of you and playing in front of Tiger is a very special thing. I always say I don’t have big idols but one idol is him and I always try to follow him.”
‘Greats of sport’
Woods made a successful return to top-flight golf in 2018, winning the season-ending Tour Championship after missing most of the previous two years through a debilitating back injury.
In April, he won his 15th major after completing a memorable victory at the Masters, his first major win since the 2008 US Open.
“It’s a big pleasure to have him here, he’s one of the greats of the sport and I want to congratulate him on one of the most amazing comebacks in sport, winning the Masters this year,” Nadal said, suggesting his own golf game lagged far behind his ability with a racquet.
“It is much better if Tiger does not see my swing. Maybe he would lose a bit of rhythm after that.”
Nadal could conceivably face old rival Roger Federer in a blockbuster final, in what would be a first-time meeting in New York, but first, the second seed must next overcome 5ft 7in (1.70m) Argentine Diego Schwartzman, who chopped down sixth seed Alexander Zverev.
“He is playing amazing, nothing new, he’s one of the players with the best talent on tour,” Nadal said of his upcoming opponent.
“It will be a big challenge. I have to play my best. I’m happy for him. He’s a close friend and I hope to play a great match.”