World number one Rafael Nadal will go for a third US Open title and second major of the season on Sunday after roaring back to defeat 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in a four-set semifinal battle.
The Spaniard, who lost to del Potro in the 2009 semifinals but had not lost a major semifinal since, winning 14 in a row, was overpowered in the opening set but turned the tables in the second and never looked back. Nadal only lost five games in the last three sets as he blew his opponent off the court, advancing to the US Open final with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Del Potro comes out swinging
Despite hitting the ball fairly cleanly, Nadal struggled against del Potro’s ferocious power in the early stages of the match. The Argentine was striking the ball consistently with his trademark power and was rewarded with some early pressure on the Spaniard’s serve. Nadal would blow a 30-love lead in the third game and sent a backhand long to set up a break point, but del Potro netted his forehand.
In his next service game, Nadal again sent a backhand long to set up break point and this time, the tennis gods sided with the 2009 champion as del Potro’s return caught the net cord and died on the Spaniard’s side to surrender the break. The Argentine struggled to consolidate the break, needed to fight through a pair of deuces to stretch the lead to 4-2. That would be as close as Nadal would come to reclaim the break, as del Potro powered through his remaining service games, closing out the set 6-4 with a forehand winner.
Perfect bounce-back from Nadal
After keeping the ball away from del Potro’s forehand in the opening set, Nadal switched up his tactics in the second, challenging the Argentine’s best weapon and running him corner to corner. The change in tactics had an immediate impact, as some outrageous defense from Nadal set up his first break point of the match in the second game of the second set. Del Potro sent his forehand long to surrender the early break.
The world number one was in the zone now and was bullying del Potro around the court. At 3-0, a series of huge forehands from the Spaniard set up a double break point and the Argentine shanked a forehand to put Nadal ahead 4-0. There was no catching the Spaniard now as, with del Potro serving to stay in the set at 0-5, he struck a clean return winner to set up double break/set point. While the Argentine saved both, an inside-out forehand winner from Nadal set up a second and del Potro would shank another forehand to put the match back on level terms after only 27 minutes.
Rafa keeps rolling
At times in the second set, it was looking like del Potro was saving his energy for the third. There were no signs of those reserves in the early stages of the next set, as the world number one carried his momentum over into the next set. A backhand winner up the line in the second game set up a break point, which he converted with a ridiculous stabbing forehand winner following some incredible, line-painting defense. Nadal very nearly made it a double break when he took a 15-40 lead at 3-0, but committed a pair of errors to snap his nine-game winning streak.
On the board for the first time since the opening set, del Potro was starting to hit the ball a little harder, but still was struggling to keep up with the top seed. A forehand winner at 2-5, 15-30 set up double break/set point, but del Potro was up to the task, saving both with big forehands of his own and holding to force Nadal to serve out the set. For the first time since the opening set, the Spaniard showed some nerves, twice trailing in the game, but managed to convert his third set point to wrap it up 6-3 and take a two-sets-to-one lead.
Del Potro fades, Nadal powers into final
The second wind never came for del Potro, while Nadal remained in the ascendancy. In fact, the Argentine seemed to be wearing down under the world number one’s barrage. At 1-1, del Potro fired back-to-back shots into the net to give his opponent double break point. The Argentine once again found himself on the defensive and even though an on-the-run stab narrowly got over the net, Nadal punched it down the line for a winner and an early break.
The world number one continued to grind away and del Potro continued to fall apart. In his next service game, the Argentine sent a forehand long to fall behind 0-40 for the first time in the match. Del Potro saved the first, but overcooked a forehand to hand the stranglehold to the Spaniard. Soon, Nadal found himself serving for the match and made no mistake, booking his place in his third major final of 2017 by ripping a backhand passing shot up the line.
By the numbers
By the time the dust settled after two hours and 30 minutes, Nadal had done practically everything right. The Spaniard was dominant on his serve, winning an impressive 77 percent of first serve points and an outstanding 72 percent of second serve points. While Nadal has always been good at attacking opponent’s second serves, he put on a masterclass in the semifinal, winning 72 percent of del Potro’s second serve points. In the rallies, the world number one was as dominant as ever, striking 45 winners, nearly twice as many as his opponent (23), and only committing 20 unforced errors, exactly half as many as del Potro.
Nadal will look to win his second major title of 2017, third US Open and 16th major title overall on Sunday. The only person standing in his way is surprise finalist Kevin Anderson, ranked 32nd in the world. Nadal leads their head-to-head 4-0, having only ever lost one set in those four matches.