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Tennis Balls shares • Ricky’s picks for Labor Day at the US Open: Nadal vs. Tiafoe and Alcaraz vs. Cilic

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates during his match against Richard Gasquet of France at the US Open in New York City. (Photo by Frey/TPN/Getty Images)

By Ricky Dimon

Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz are on a collision course for the U.S. Open semifinals. Before they can look that far ahead, however, they first have to get through their respective fourth-round matches on Monday. Nadal faces Frances Tiafoe, while Alcaraz is going up against Marin Cilic.

Here are my previews and picks for the two matchups.

( ) Frances Tiafoe vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Nadal was not his typical self through the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, dropping sets to Rinky Hijikata and Fabio Fognini. However, the four-time champion raised his level to crush Richard Gasquet 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 on Saturday. Granted any Nadal victory over Gasquet has to be taken with a grain of salt given the lopsidedness of their head-to-head history, but it was still an encouraging performance by the 36-year-old Spaniard.

Next up for Nadal on Monday is a third meeting with Tiafoe, who has unsurprisingly lost each of their previous encounters in straight sets. Neither one was played in the United States, though, and Tiafoe generally thrives on the big stage of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in front of the home crowd. The 26th-ranked American may not be quite ready to pull off the upset altogether, but he should at least be able to make this one interesting and entertaining.

Pick: Nadal in 4

Photo credit: USTA/US Open

(15) Marin Cilic vs. (3) Carlos Alcaraz

Alcaraz and Cilic will be squaring off for the fourth time in their careers and for the third time this season. The head-to-head series stands at 2-1 in favor of Alcaraz, who lost a clay-court contest last season but has defeated Cilic twice in 2022 — both in straight sets at Masters 1000 events (Miami and Cincinnati).

Cilic — the 2014 U.S. Open champion — is in resurgent form at the moment, but there is still no reason to think he can turn the tide. Alcaraz raised his level from the first two rounds to destroy Jenson Brooksby 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday. Cilic is coming off a four-set battle with Dan Evans that lasted one minute short of four hours. The 33-year-old Croat may be able to serve his way to a set, but Alcaraz is the obvious choice.

Pick: Alcaraz in 4

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.