There will be a blockbuster U.S. Open semifinal on Friday. It just won’t be the one people anticipated.
Juan Martin Del Potro prevented the first-ever Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer showdown in New York by upsetting Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 during quarterfinal action on Wednesday night. Del Potro saved four set points in the third set and seized complete control early in the fourth before triumphing in two hours and 50 minutes.
The Argentine broke serve once in the opening set and Federer did the same in the second. That set the stage for a far less straightforward third, which proved to be the turning point of the entertaining tilt.
Del Potro led by a break only to see Federer get it back and force a tiebreaker. At that point it was the 19-time Grand Slam winner’s turn to play from ahead, but he failed to convert set points at 6-4, 6-5, 7-6, and 8-7–two of which came on his own serve. Del Potro capitalized on his first opportunity at 9-8 by forcing Federer into a volley error with a surprisingly forceful backhand return.
The 24th seed earned the lone break of set four with a clean backhand return winner at 2-2, ad-out. It was all but over from there, as Del Potro held serve easily the rest of the way.
“I have nothing to lose against Federer, so I did my best game of the tournament tonight,” 2009 U.S. Open champion explained. “I played very smart game during the whole match. (It) is so important to me beating him another time in this amazing tournament.”
“I don’t think those four points make all of the difference,” Federer explained, referring to his quartet of set points in the third. “There was more to it that led to me being down two sets to one and the break. I missed too many balls to keep me ahead in the match. He came up with the goods when he needed to and I helped him a little bit sometimes, too. But he was better today, especially on the big points.”
Interestingly, the Swiss added that Del Potro will have a better chance against Nadal than he would have had. Both men sport losing records against the current world No. 1, but included in Del Potro’s 5-9 effort is a 5-4 mark on hard courts.
“When he’s playing well, it’s difficult to stop him,” Nadal said of Del Potro. “Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the tour. If he [is serving] well and [hitting] well his forehand, he’s a player that [has] the chance to win against, of course, everybody. I have to play my best tennis. I need to be very focused with my serve and play aggressive, because if you let him play from good positions with his forehand, you are dead.”
That’s what Nadal was in the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, in which Del Potro rolled 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.