U.S. Open SF preview and prediction: Nadal vs. Del Potro

When the U.S. Open draw revealed itself almost exactly two weeks ago, it had the cruel idea to pit Rafael Nadal against Roger Federer in the semifinals instead of the final. Juan Martin Del Potro had other ideas.

It will be Nadal against Del Potro, instead, after the Argentine upset Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 during quarterfinal action on Wednesday night. The two former champions of this event will be facing each other for the 14th time in their careers on Friday when they battle for a place in the title match. Nadal leads the head-to-head series 8-5, but Del Potro is 5-4 against the current world No. 1 on hard courts.

They have squared off only once since the end of 2013, with Del Potro prevailing 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(5) in the semifinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics on his way to the silver medal. Perhaps their most memorable–but also more in infamous than famous–encounter came at the same stage of this same tournament in 2009, when Del Potro destroyed Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 and then stunned Federer in five sets to capture his first and only Grand Slam title.

Given the circumstances, a return trip to the U.S. Open final would be even more improbable–and not just because Del Potro no longer has the same backhand he once wielded prior to multiple left-wrist surgeries. The world No. 28 was all but left for dead earlier this fortnight when an illness plagued him in his fourth-rounder against Dominic Thiem and led to losses of 6-1 and 6-2 in the first two sets. Later saying that he refused to retire only because he did not want to disappoint his throng of supporters, Del Potro found another gear and eventually triumphed 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 in hard-to-believe fashion.

The former world No. 4 preceded that result with routine defeats of Henri Laaksonen, Adrian Menendez-Maceiras, and Roberto Bautista and followed it up by ousting Federer in an entertaining but not exactly a classic four-setter. Del Potro fought off four set points in the third-set tiebreaker against Federer, eventually took it 10-8, and promptly took complete control in the fourth.

Nadal’s trouble at this event came in rounds two and three, when he trailed Taro Daniel by a set and a break and Leonardo Mayer by a set and 15-40 early in the second. The top-seeded Spaniard eventually won both of those contests in four. He also coasted past Dusan Lajovic, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Andrey Rublev while saving six of his best sets for last–hammering Dolgopolov 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 and Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

“He’s the No. 1 player of the world and he’s playing so confident this tournament,” Del Potro assessed. “He’s a lefty, so he has (a) chance to find easily my backhand. So I don’t know what’s gonna be my strategy for that match. But for sure I will try to make winners with my forehands and don’t run too much, because my legs are tired. (It) will be (an) interesting match to play.”

“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.

“I need to play against his backhand, and then open the court, no?”

Yes, that is correct. Del Potro’s backhand came up big at crucial moments against Federer, but it will be under attack on a consistent basis from Nadal’s heavy topspin. The underdog will have no choice but to come over it with two hands more often than not. It’s a shot that can still be effective but is prone to break down when it comes to this post-surgery, not-as-healthy version of Del Potro. And when the deuce court is open, perhaps no one in the sport–except maybe Del Potro, himself–has a better inside-out forehand than Nadal.

This has been an energy-sapping fortnight both physically and emotionally for Del Potro, so the end may be near.

Pick: Nadal in 4

2 Comments on U.S. Open SF preview and prediction: Nadal vs. Del Potro

  1. Anderson is playing really well. He is hitting big serves consistently and hitting big off both wings. It will not be an easy match. Guy is only broken 5 times so far in 6 matches. Played a good match to take Querrey out.

    IMHO, he is playing better than DelPo.

  2. Congrats to R. Nadal!
    I wanted DELPO to win in the 5th set but maybe next time.
    Even though Juan Martin Del Potro lost, i still won but it would have been better if he had won.

    This is not the same Rafito that played Australian Open, Wimbledon etc.
    Maybe it’s because some great player’s are missing.
    R. Nadal might be taking something cos his balling, this guy is a fighter just like me and he deserves to win it all.

    Goodluck to Rafito!
    Goodluck to Rafans!
    If Kevin Anderson wins, i will be disappointed in R. Nadal for obvious reasons.


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