It was in New York where Juan Martin Del Potro first established his credentials as a player who could challenge the status quo at the top of the men’s game, winning the US Open in 2009 with a stunning win over Roger Federer in the final. His career hasn’t quite turned out like many hoped due to rotten luck with injuries but he finds himself with a great opportunity for a slam title, 8 years after the first. Rafael Nadal is rightly favoured, with this match almost feeling like a de-facto final.
The cliche goes that “you can only beat what is in front of you” when it comes to draw difficulty but were Del Potro to win the tournament, it would be truly earned given his route to victory. He would have to have beaten the 11th (Bautista Agut), 8th (Thiem), 1st (Federer) and 3rd (Nadal) seeds to have made the final. While his win over Thiem in round four showed major heart after he was destroyed early on in the match, the win over Federer in the quarter finals showcased why his game is so beloved on the tour and why he is always pencilled in as a contender on the rare occasions his body allows him to. He saved multiple set points on return on his way to a third set tiebreak, winning in four to thrill the Arthur Ashe crowd. He hit 48 winners overall to just 32 unforced errors while remaining strong on serve in facing just 3 break points, although he was broken on two of them.
“He’s the No. 1 player of the world, and he’s playing so confident this tournament. He’s a lefty guy, so he has 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.” Del Potro said of his opponent. That confidence was on full display in the previous round as Andrey Rublev was dispatched for the loss of just 5 games. Nadal was at the top of his game, making the Russian work hard for every point and it was never much of a contest. Rublev admitted that he was disappointed with his serve throughout but that it would not have made a difference to the result, rather just get him a few extra games in each of the sets he convincingly lost. Nadal is unlikely to be winning 55% of return points against Del Potro but he will definitely be looking to get the big man moving, which can only be a good thing for Nadal.
“Juan Martin is a top player, no? It’s true that when he’s playing well, it’s difficult to stop him. Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the tour. And of course to win tonight, he should be serving well. If he serve well and hit well his forehand, he’s a player that have the chance to win against, of course, everybody. 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, because he plays super-aggressive, hitting so hard.” Nadal said of his opponent. Del Potro certainly has had the beating of the World No.1 in the past, winning 5 of their 13 encounters including once at last years Olympics. During that dream run in 2009, he crushed Nadal 6-2 6-2 6-2 in the semi finals.
Prediction – Rafael Nadal in 4 sets