It’s easy to picture Rafael Nadal in exclusive company

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Rafael Nadal easily navigated another pothole on his road to history Sunday, a history with which he has not quite come to grips.

Besides the best game in tennis at the moment, the Spanish star had everything going for him in his third-round U.S. Open match on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Skies were blue, the temperature was perfect, the puffs of wind were more comfort than pain.

Plus, his opponent, 42nd-ranked Gilles Simon of France, was present, but elsewhere. Two days ago, his girlfriend gave birth in France to their first child, four weeks early, and Simon acknowledged afterward that he was more interested in seeing new son Timothy than more of Nadal’s forehand. He lost the first two sets, 6-4, 6-4, and said, “In the third set, I was already on the plane.”

Simon’s understandable lack of resistance in a 6-2 third set probably mattered little, anyway. Nadal is the No. 1 player in the world with reason. To a game that has been overwhelming to opponents for years — heavy, spinning, high-bouncing ground strokes — he has added an increasingly effective serve. It used to top out around 120 mph. Sunday, he hit 130 twice.

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