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Lopez slams his way into the final eight

By Richard Finn
Sunday, September 06, 2015

WHAT HAPPENED: A Spanish left-hander made the U S Open quarterfinals on Sunday.

His name is Feliciano Lopez and any similarities to his more famous compatriot, two-time U S Open champion Rafael Nadal, begin and end with their nationality and left-handedness.

The No. 18 Lopez reached his first round of eight at Flushing Meadow by pounding out a one-sided 6-3 7-6 6-1 win over Fabio Fognini, gaining a measure of revenge after Fognini ousted Nadal in a brilliant five-setter in the previous round.

But this was not the baseline-hugging Nadal who Fognini was playing in the late afternoon sunlight before a full Louis Armstrong Stadium house.

"Every match is different and my game is another game," said Lopez, 33. "I was very aggressive and my serve was working."

The 6-foot-2 Lopez slammed in huge serves and then beat a steady path to the net throughout the match to keep Fognini on his heels and muttering to himself.

Averaging 123 mph on his first serves, Lopez won 82 percent of his first serves, fired in seven aces and lost serve just once. Using his wingspan to its fullest advantage, Lopez crowded the net to cut off passing shots and blast overhead winners to win 62 percent of his 47 trips to the net. And from the baseline, Lopez kept up the pressure with 27 winners off his heavy topspin forehand and slice backhand.  

When Lopez went up 3-0 in the third set, it was déjà vu for Fognini, who had trailed by the same score against Nadal before mounting a miraculous rally that went late into the evening on Friday night. But this time there would be no comeback for the No. 32 seed.

Lopez emphatically shut that door with two service breaks in the final set and then wrapped up the one hour and 50 minute match with a classic serve-and-volley point, pounding in a 126 mph first serve followed by a crisp backhand volley that forced Fognini to sail a backhand well over the baseline.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Utilizing his big game, Lopez has reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals three times, in 2005, 08 and 11 , his best Grand Slam results to date. To make his first major semifinal, Lopez will likely have to overcome either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 23 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the next round.   

QUESTION: Does Lopez have enough firepower to potentially knock out Djokovic, arguably the best service returner and defender in the game today?