The tennis gods have answered and they haven’t been too kind with respect to THE most anticipated semi-finals at this year’s US Open. Another year will pass with the storied rivalry, popular dubbed 'Fedal', not making its debut at Flushing Meadows. This is now the sixth occasion that the duo has missed meeting at the Open by a tiny whisker. While most tennis fans around the world were hoping for the first Federer-Nadal showdown at the US Open, 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro has been busy scripting his own comeback of sorts.
The place he believes is his ‘home court' and understandably so, is now home again to one of the biggest forehands in the men’s game. Injuries have curtailed the man they call the ‘Gentle Giant’ from realising his true potential, but here he is, back in the semis, with an opportunity to topple arguably the two greatest players of all-time, in back-to-back matches.
It’s easier said than done, though.
In front of Del Potro, stands the ever so resilient World No 1 Rafael Nadal, itching to get back into the final of the US Open, a Grand Slam he has won on two occasions, back in 2010 and 2013. The loaded top half of the draw have not disappointed by any means. The top half featured three former US Open champions, and two of them are going to face-off in the semi-final to inch one step closer to add to their trophy collection. We break down this potentially epic matchup below.
Nadal leads the career head-to-head between the two players at 8-5. If you’re a Nadal fan, that’s a disappointing ratio given his own lofty standards, but that’s not the only thing to be worried about. It’s now common knowledge that Del Potro enjoys playing on hard courts and that the nature of his game suits the nature of the surface. The interesting part about the their record is that two players have faced-off nine times on hard courts and Del Potro leads 5-4.
If their most recent meeting, at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is anything to go by, we can definitely expect fireworks. The Argentine beat the Spaniard in a final set tie-breaker in the Rio Games semi-final. The duo traded blows till the final point was played and with the crowd in New York probably expected to get as raucous as in Rio, this match could witness some see-sawing battles all the way through.
Form guide at the championship
Del Potro has been in stupendous touch leading up to this semi-final showdown. He has already beaten three players ranked above him, Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round, Dominic Thiem in the fourth round and Roger Federer in the quarter-final. In Thiem and Federer, he has taken out two top-10 players in the world. His match against Thiem, where he trailed two sets to love, picking up just three games in those two sets combined, particularly exemplified the grit of Del Potro this year and his resurgent desire to win.
The crowd at the Grandstand also helped in buoying him from the hole to script what is the comeback of the tournament in the men’s draw so far. He had to save match points in order to face Federer, and later, he dispatched Federer with fare share of contribution from that big forehand of his.
In Federer's words, Del Potro fought like a lion and deserved every bit for making it through.
Nadal, on the other hand, had an extremely easy draw, with his opponents doing the damage in their earlier matches to eliminate players who could threaten the World No 1. The highest ranked player he has had to face – Andrey Rublev – in the tournament was ranked 53 before the US Open began. While his last two wins, against Rublev and Alexandr Dolgopolov came by resounding margins, they were in large parts due to his opponent’s reckless shot-making and erroneous play.
Nadal won scrappy matches to open his campaign against much lower-ranked players, even dropping two sets along the way. While he will go into the match against Del Potro with confidence in his own abilities, he hasn't really been tested so far.
What’s at stake
A LOT! While the definition would be different for two players, a lot is at stake for both men. For Del Potro, it would be satisfaction and pure bliss more than anything else. Having gone through multiple surgeries on his wrist, having had a promising career marred with injury breaks, Del Potro can take away a lot from another Grand Slam final showing, and if he was to go all the way, we might just see the resurgence of one of the most lethal ball-strikers in the game.
In terms of rankings, a place in the final would thrust Del Potro back into the top-20, and capturing the Open would have him sniffing at the heels of the top-10.
For Nadal, he has a chance to cement his bid to end the year ranked World No 1. With Federer already out, it gives Nadal an opportunity to stretch the gap between him and Roger. Also, wouldn't Nadal just love a crack at capturing his sweet 16 at the Big Apple? Having already won his 10th French Open and 15th Grand Slam earlier this year, Nadal wouldn't want to wait too long to add number 16 to his collection, and there couldn't be a better time.
The deeper this match goes, Nadal's chances will increase. Del Potro will need to start strong and play his assertive brand of tennis. If Del Potro digs a deep hole again, Nadal will bury his chances. Expect fireworks and solid baseline hitting from both men but advantage Del Potro. This is a really close one to call. Heart says Nadal, mind and instinct say Del Potro (if he can stay fit).
For the preview of the first men's semi-final, click here.
Updated Date: Sep 08, 2017 16:18 PM