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

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

  1. Really happy for all all you Rafa fans! I know you don’t want to truly celebrate until the trophy is in his hands, but I think we all know the outcome of this tournament… 🙂

  2. Very good win. Rafa just took life out of DelPo. I dont think he lost because he was tired. He just was shell-shocked.

    • Rafa had started to hit his shots better in the second half of set 2 and he was really unlucky to get broken. Once set 2 started, he just moved to a higher gear and Delpo was jusy suddenly getting completely different looks. Within minutes, Rafa had a stranglehold over Delpo and then literally sucked life out of him.

      The big man is a huge player and could have competed harder if hr were fresher but boy oh boy, you can’t handle this version of Rafa.

  3. I TOLD YOUZ guys the Cincy result is not relevant and the Toronto match was a one-off. Rafa just needed to build momentum in the early rounds and use the format of slams to his advantage. He really played himself into form.

    This version of Rafa was incresible to watch. I am so happy I got to see how secure he can look on his 2nd serve when his groundstrokes are working this efficiently!

    I repeat what I said before the first round:

    I don’t see why Rafa would NOT do really well at the USO. I had full faith in his abilities.

    Now, there is a final to be played and Anderson can be really dangerous but Rafa will be ready and I confident he will get in done in 3 or max 4 if Kevin is on fire and Rafa a bit nervous.

    • Poor Anderson…. But what were the chances that if he made a slam final he would get to face anyone who he could never beat in best of 5? I just PRAY that we get THIS Rafa and a fully-healthy Fed in the rest of the season so we get a full-blown BATTLE for year end #1!! Omg, what if it all came down to WTF like last year? That would crazy… If Rafa somehow doesn’t maintain this form, or Fed never returns to good health/form, it could end up being a very boring remainder of the year… I can handle a decimated draw for one big tournament, but not the whole second half of the season…

      • I’m sure Fed WILL return to good form for the rest of the year. He just didn’t have time to recuperate fully and prepare properly for the USO. He doesn’t do the long hard practices Rafa does during tournaments but he does need some prep. As he once said wryly, “I had to work at my genius”.

    • Yes, I did, but more so his groundies, he was so super aggressive too!!

      Incredible match!! Perhaps for Rogers sake, its a good thing that he lost! Rafa would have really swept the floor with him!!

  4. When Rafa plays his best, this statement can never change
    no opposition can match him.

    The final will be similar to RG, easy three sets. 16 slams confirmed.

    • Haha, more like he’ll be having nightmares about what will inevitably happen! I guess maybe we should give Kevin a little more credit? He did push Rafa hard on a slower hard court in Paris 2015, but that was best of three and 2015 Rafa… Goodnight Kev. He should really proud of making the final. He showed real composite in the latter rounds considering he had never been past the QF.

      • Yes indeed. Nadal will finish him swiftly but Anderson will lose with grace. Love that guy he works so hard and deserves this. He was 80 in the world after Melbourne this year!! EIGHTY! Now he will be top 15.

        • Kevin was very, very happy to win his semi. He was kind of acting like it was a final, thanking his team & family at length. He is a nice guy and a class act.

  5. Rafa really brought it in this match!

    After the first set, Rafa was a boss!

    Loved watching this kind of tennis from Rafa!

  6. Very aggressive Rafa set 2, 3, 4..muscular, very agile, very powerful and very intimidating..and he was stepping in the court so much..why cant he be this aggressive most times

  7. Guys lets not get ahead of ourselves please..Rafa has to play the final to win..The trophy is for the guy who wins the last point …Dont count Anderson out. Anything can happen. Remember AO 14..let Rafa play and win..

    • Noooo, I want to forget AO 14! /sigh But I guess we should remember that plenty of low moments go along with the highs. As Rafa says, “life can’t always be perfect”.

  8. Wooohooooo! Vamos Rafa!!! SO HAPPY. (I could be a teeny bit happier since my tivo cut out after the 3rd set! But I did notice in time to catch the end of the match on my hubby’s set up).

    Really hoping NNY is ok, have not seen any messages from her yet today – not that I’ve read everything….

  9. Nadal was awesome tonight. Godly forehands galore. I don’t hesitate at all in saying that if Anderson beats Nadal it will be one of top 5 craziest grand slam upsets ever. That said, Nadal in three.

  10. AO is different, that is the unfortunate land for Rafa.

    how many times he lost unbelievably.
    first in 2011 to Ferrer when he was supposed to get 4 slams trophy.

    second to wawa whim he never lost before.

    Third to Nole after leading fifth set.

    fourth to Roger again after leading fifth set.

    In USO, this won’t happen, this is not Melbourne nor Miami.
    This is the land which brings much more luck to Rafa, he won’t encounter unthinkable situation here.

    • I strongly feel the 4 tough losses at Australia will be repaid and made up for in some way.

      See Roger and Novak at French…they both lost like 3 finals n few semis before finally winning it.

      I know rafa won already at Melbourne in heroic fashion but his 12 n 17 final losses were very very unbelievably close n a point here n there n it could have turned. Against djoko the bh sitter miss and against Fed too the booming fh that misses by a mm that have fed the break back.

  11. Delpo has a bigger game than Anderson. He was schooled. Just saying. Anderson gave a victory speech by just reaching the finals. He knows what’s coming. This is Rafa Nadal freight train.
    What a player. #GOAT

  12. For Kevin Anderson to beat one of the greatest ever in a major final would surely have to be the single greatest upset in men’s tennis history… Which is why it won’t happen. It would take either Rafa getting injured, or having the epic collapse of form ever. And we don’t want either of those! I will say that Rafa woukd presumably had an even easier final had it been PCB. But in terms of the striking difference between the caliber of Rafa vs. Anderson/PCB, it really doesn’t matter who he faces in the final. I think that Rafa getting that coveted next hardcourt title will mean so much to him. I knew he was licking his chops coming in having seen Fed in the Montreal final. He had to have known that he had a great opportunity. And then when the draw broke so widely open, he had to have known this was his tournament if he wanted it enough. And he showed tonight just how much he does want that title!

  13. The only thing I think Anderson will do better than Del Po is keep the energy up. I felt Rafa took some energy out of Del Po with his play but Del Po was also wiped. Anderson hasn’t had super long matches leading in and will have a lot of adrenaline. So I think he will be more hyped and energized and ready to give it his all. Problem for Anderson is his all will almost certainly not be enough.

  14. I think Rafa would have easily beaten fed today too given the form he was in today. Not so lopsided but tighter sets .

    • In the form Fed was in the past two weeks? Hard to imagine Rafa not winning. It doesn’t matter, though. Fed wasn’t good enough to progress, and Rafa was!

    • Yes that is very likely. I didn’t realize it but Fed really made a LOT of crazy mistakes against Del Po. Not to take anything from Juan Martin but I think if Fed was playing close to his best he would’ve rolled in that one. JMDP earned it with his incredible serving but he still got a lot of help from Roger.

    • Sanju, if we’re talking about 52 weeks ranking points, then after this SF, Rafa will have 8665 points for reaching the final; Fed has 7505 points for reaching QF and lost there. Rafa can add 800 points to make it 9465 points if he wins the USO title.

      In terms of race points, Rafa has 8565 and if he wins the title 9365; Fed has 7505.

      The difference of 100 points for Rafa (bet. ranking and race points) is because of Rafa’s points from Beijing (90) and Shanghai (10) last year. If Rafa wins the title here at NY, he will have a good chance of finishing 2017 as YE no.1. I hope he does achieve both.

      • He will have a very good chance, for sure. Fed will have to manage to win most of the remaining tournament this season. Let’s see where he’s at come Shaghai. I hope it comes down to WTF, personally. WTF Finals Final, Rafa vs. Fed, winner take #1! 🙂

      • Thanks lucky and Benny. 1060 is too small given feds fav part of season. Rafa has to make it 1860 difference to have a safe buffer. Fed already left uso saying he HAS to win Shanghai. He knows if rafa does well there and he does not it’s curtains for no 1.

  15. Let’s not discuss hypotheticals. He handily beat the guy in front of big and is likely to do so again in the finals. #16 would mean GOAT debates will start again.

  16. This Rafa Nadal was much better than the Rafa we saw at AO. I always end up finding some faults in Rafa’s performance but there is nothing I can say about today’s performance after set 1. Totally satisfied with all areas of his game!

    I have also noticed the improvements in his backhand slice. That shot has not improved at the rate of his 2nd serve improvement but I’ve seen progress. He is getting better length and a bit more bite let it skid through more on a consistent basis. The Rafa slice has always had LOADS of backspin but it used to sit up too much and not skid through. He is doing a better job now.

    • Agree VR!..It’s the same for me!…This is the first time i felt sooooo satisfied with Rafa’s perfomance since that final at RG…this is the Rafa that we saw in that final[the last 3 sets i mean]…Hopefully we’re also can see this version of Rafa this sunday….

  17. @sanmadrids 44m44 minutes ago
    rafael nadal is such a clay court specialist that he’s made it to two hardcourt slam finals this year

    @hbryant42 46m
    23 major finals for Nadal, 10 on clay, 13 away from it. He’s no specialist, which really goes without saying.

  18. It means a lot. It has been an amazing season of course after a couple with injures and troubles you know? To be back here in front of this amazing crowd, on this amazing court and to have the chance to fight for another title is so important to me.

    I changed a couple of things after the first set. I was playing too much to his backhand and I knew that I had change and move him more and be more unpredictable. It worked really well and I am very happy.

    When the rounds are coming, you know you have won a few matchs and you have confidence and know you are playing well. The last three matches have been very positive and this one was the best.

    It will be very tough against Kevin. He has an unbelievable serve and is a great example for the kids in the way he has come back from injury. I have known him since we were 12 so I am very happy for him.”

    • yup, called it at 5-3 that he has realized he is not attacking Delpo’s forehand enough and will change it. Some fellow Rafans agreed and we saw him move Delpo around ruthlessly.

      Rafa is the huge favourite but he will never take Kevin lightly. Don’t wanna let something like Querrey-Nadal Acapulco final. Rafa’s playing FARRR better and this is a best of five, slam final. Let’s see what Kevin can bring to the table. I haven’t seen Kevin’s single match this tournament.

  19. Rafa is best on clay, no argument about that.

    On hc, he has made very good achievements as well.
    Most likely 4 slams trophies and 4 runner up trophies.

    That’s second best compared to Fed and Nole.
    But when Rafa plays his best at HC, he mastered Fed and beat Rafa, overall 45;55 to Nole.
    Rafa’s problem is he cannot be as consistent as these two throughout.

    • yes! Rafa has struggled to play his absolute best on hard courts consistently but when he gets the balance right, his aggressive best on hard courts trumps everyone else’s in my opinion. I think indoor hard court is the surface I will say Federer’s and Djoker’s best trump Rafa’s.

      • I agree with VR, about Rafa’s aggressive best on HCs trumps everyone else’s; it’s on indoor HCs that Rafa struggles more.

        I think Rafa has also improved his BHDTL in addition to his BH slices and second serves. He’s hitting BHDTL with more depth now and is able to change direction of his shots better now with that BHDTL added to his arsensal( when in the past he hardly hit that, preferring to run around his BH to hit his FH DTL). I like the way he changed the pace of his shots too by slicing, not giving Delpo to much pace to work with.

        Overall, a very intelligent play by Rafa; I’m glad Rafa was able to contain Delpo’s power game and not let Delpo dictate play after losing the first set. I know Delpo might be under the weather, but Rafa was relentless for most of the match and never allowed Delpo back into the match.

        Well done Rafa, one more match to win here, go get it! Rafa has now reach at least four finals at each slam, well done again! He has reached 23 slam finals, two more than Djoko.

  20. Anderson is the lowest ranked player in USO history to make the final. he may not win but reckon he’ll give his best until the end and his best is pretty good.

  21. Just want to point out how lucky I am to have gotten to not only have seen the Men’s champ play at the US Open, but maybe even the Women’s champ (if Madison wins). I am so grateful. I’m still grateful I also got to see Fed play, even if he went out in the QF. Same with Del Po! I couldn’t be luckier…

    • Oh God Kevin!…I think Rafa plays this incredible because he knew you’re there and put up a special perfomance just for u!!Hahaha…Nonetheless IF Rafa win this sunday,don’t u EVER wash the clothes that u’re gonna wear that day Kev!..It’s certainly gives us Rafans a very good luck!hahaha…

  22. I know that Andy Murray is not Rafa, but I did just realize something I thought I should point out. Kevin Anderson does at least know what it takes to beat a Big 4 guy at the US Open. Won’t make any difference, but it makes me wonder if I should maybe give him a little more credit than I’m giving him?

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