Nadal experiences painful scare after sweeping past Nalbandian

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NEW YORK — Even if it turns out to be nothing, which Rafael Nadal insists was the case, the frightening scene in his post-match interview Sunday will go down as memorable.

Answering questions in Spanish, Nadal suddenly started grimacing in pain. He tilted his head back, covered his face with his arm. His face twisted in agony as he slid down in his chair, he motioned for help.

After a few nervous moments with the trainers crowded around the table, Nadal popped back up. A simple leg cramp, he insisted.

“It’s bad luck it happened here and not in the locker room,” he said.

But because it did, that was the big news Sunday at the U.S. Open bigger than Nadal’s straight-set win over David Nalbandian that came about two hours before the cramping episode, bigger than wins by Americans Donald Young (a surprise) and Andy Roddick (not as much of one).

“I just have cramping in my leg, that’s all,” Nadal said.

His 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, 7-5 win over Nalbandian was routine, at least as routine as they’ve been going for the defending champion and No. 2 seed through the first week at Flushing Meadows. He gave up a break early in the first set but fought back to force a tiebreaker that he won. He gave back a break in the third set to turn a possible 6-3 close-out into something much closer.

In Louis Armstrong Stadium, No. 26 Flavia Pennetta backed up her victory over Maria Sharapova with a 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) win over No. 13 Peng Shuai of China. But she also struggled with the heat. Trailing 5-3 in the second, Pennetta got a break to stay in it. She forced a tiebreaker but appeared near exhaustion as the set wore on. The match took 2 hours, 31 minutes.

“This one is one of the worst I’ve ever felt on the court,” Pennetta said.

Pennetta fell behind 5-0 and 6-2 in the tiebreaker but won the last six points to pull out the match. Pennetta made it 6-6 when she answered Peng’s overhead with a shot that hit near the frame of her racket for a crosscourt winner.

Trying to move past the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam for the first time, Pennetta will play Angelique Kerber of Germany, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Monica Niculescu of Romania.

Later, Roddick and Young won their matches.

Roddick, seeded 21st, defeated Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) - a relatively easy match except for a third set that dragged out to 65 minutes.

Young, the onetime top-ranked junior in the world, took another step toward fulfilling his vast potential with a 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 upset over No. 24 Juan Ignacio Chela on the Grandstand Court.

“It’s been tough,”he said. “I’ve been through times I didn’t want to play or pick up a racket anymore, didn’t want to watch TV because they’d be talking bad about me. I got up this morning and was watching CBS and they were showing good things about me.”

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