Rafael Nadal took the roundabout route again before defeating Nikoloz Basilashvili to set up a fourth-round clash with Dominic Thiem at the US Open.
Georgian Basilashvili had won just a single game against Nadal in their only previous meeting at the French Open last year, but played superbly here to take a set before going down 6-3 6-3 6-7 (6/8) 6-4 after three hours and 18 minutes.
Basilashvili thumped 56 winners compared to 30 for Nadal, but the Spaniard’s greater consistency ultimately saw him through to face Thiem, the only man to beat him on clay for the last two years.
Nadal said: “Two matches in a row very tough ones. I had a big chance at the beginning of the third, if I make that break, maybe things will be different. But I didn’t.
“I think I played a good tie-break, but he played fantastic. A lot of credit to him. He was playing great, hitting the ball very, very strong. It seems like I was not in control of the point even when I was hitting good shots.
“I’m very happy to be through. I think I did what I have to do. It’s a big victory for me because of what happened two days ago. The physical issue was there of course, but I feel good.”
There was no sign of the strapping under his right knee that had caused agitation during Nadal’s four-hour marathon against Karen Khachanov on Friday.
And for two sets Nadal appeared to be strolling towards the last 16. Basilashvili’s groundstrokes pack a lot of punch, but he did not appear to have the control that is needed to overcome the brilliant Spaniard.
But in the third set Basilashvili, who is ranked 37 and enjoying his best season, found the right balance, not going for broke too early and instead building the point and using the angles with his excellent two-handed backhand.
He handed an early break straight back but did not lose his belief and played surely the finest tie-break of his career.
With Nadal eager to finish off the match in straight sets in energy-sapping humidity, Basilashvili twice came from a mini-break down to take the set, leaving his opponent to rue a missed forehand down the line at 6-6.
Winning one set against Nadal is impressive, but winning three sets quite another matter and Basilashvili was immediately on the back foot at the start of the fourth as Nadal broke.
He pulled back to 3-3, punishing the Nadal second serve, but the top seed moved ahead again immediately, this time his forehand down the line at its unerring best. And that was to prove Basilashvili’s final chance.