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

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

  1. Reporting from ashe. One more set rafans! Hang in there. Hope delpo does not get a second wind. Woooo hoo. Neat lawnmower at the end?

  2. So, what did I keep saying about Rafa’s second serve?? He has won 71% of them tonight. I knew he would be formidable on 2nd serves as soon as his forehand gets consistent.

  3. Totally agree with Natashao.

    Rafa’s shouldn’t be fooled. Delpo may be wary but he has huge reserves of energy and he can start playing at a high level any time.

  4. I think Rafa played a very agggressive 3rd set. He made mistakes, but he has just put Delpo on the run all the time. He has been really aggressive, has been going for his shots. His ROS is very very aggressive. Rafa has got broken only once where he was unlucky twice. Otherwise he would have not even have lost a set. Should close this out in 4th now.

    • Rafa is sensing it now. He went for that break of serve.

      Rafa is too smart to let up on Delpo. He knows better.

  5. Delpo slices are prize meal for Rafa. Against Fed, he could force fed to hit a slice and have a go at his inside out forehand but this is such different patterns.

  6. Even on a hard court, vintage Rafa forehand trumps Delpo’s forehand.

    Also, when Rafa gets his ROS balance this right, he is like an unstoppable freight train.

    • The Rafa we have seen set 2 onward, oh yeah! This is better than 2013.

      People who post here regularly know I don’t say this often at all and I don’t exaggerate . Seeing this Rafa Nadal, I don’t think anyone can beat him on this court!!

      It is the same story . 2010, 2013 Rafa was also well above the competition in those slams and he is doing it again in 2017 after a shaky start. People were talking about him getting weak opponents but his performance against Dolgo was a clear indications he was peaking at the right time.

      What has impressed me most is how he has turned the tables in return games. He was returning from close to the line judges and suddenly he was inside the baseline, making very very aggressive returns.

      2010, 2013 Rafa versions were not returning anywhere to this level.

      I know this is one match and he needs to replicate in the final but I have confidence he will do it.

  7. Delpo looks resigned now and he must be feeling jaded. Sure, he could have made the scorelines closer (quite likely not in set 2 though) but I have zero doubts the result would have been the same even if Delpo were 110% fit!!

    • Yup that’s true.
      But would have got to see a much better match.

      Anyways hope he builds it on from here for the rest of the season.

  8. This is the RG Rafa mastering the hard courts in the same manner! The King of USO!! Rafa playing amazing tennis! Totally dominates the court! Real beauty for us Rafans!

    Vamooooosss!

    • Yeah Natashao. This Rafa is playing at such a fast pace and returning so aggressively. RG Rafa was unplayable from the baseline but obviously a higher % ROS strategy.

      • Wait till January…after that we will see..if you think Djoko will take a break of 6 months and dominate season like Rafa did in 2013 and Fed did in parts this year..you may not be right..he well may but cant be so sure

    • I remember saying that Rafa could play himself into really good form in this slam. He hasn’t looked good coming into the USO, but I thought he could get himself together!

      Rafa wins!!! In the final!
      ???

  9. That’s okay!…we can forgive that stupid error from rafa considering he’s gonna serve for the match now…C;mon Rafa!!…U can do this!!

  10. Ok. This game was an off type with lost concentration but next Rafa serves for the match and for the spot in the finals!

    Vamos!

  11. YESSSSSSS!!!WOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!!!……THANK THANK U THANK U GOD FOR THIS WIN!!!….ALHAMDULILLAH!!

    NNy & rc!!….Another final!!

  12. HE DOES IT! RAFAEL NADAL BEATS JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 FOR A SPOT IN THE US OPEN 2017 FINALS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2013!

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