Friday, 21 September, 2018

US Open: 'Injured' Rafael Nadal's retirement hands del Potro final berth

Juan Martin del Potro’s friends cheer from a suite box at the U.S. Open Juan Martin del Potro’s friends cheer from a suite box at the U.S. Open
Sergio Cook | 11 September, 2018, 05:16

After Friday night, when top seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal retired two sets down in the US Open semi-finals, this unusual stat is now up to 10.

The jury is still out on whether retirements should be considered wins: they are in head-to-head. That was followed by three procedures on his left wrist, which sidelined him for 2½ years' worth of Grand Slam tournaments.

Everyone who follows tennis is familiar with the dramatic story of del Potro's career. Nine years ago, he stunned Nadal in the semifinals, then Roger Federer in the final, to win the US Open at age 20. But fate had other plans.

Nishikori made history in reaching the 2014 US Open final, but said he could hardly bring himself to watch last year's tournament as he battled a wrist injury that brought his 2017 season to a premature close.

"I know what I have", he said after limping off Arthur Ashe Stadium having lost two sets to third-seeded Argentine Juan Martin del Potro. However, his worries here have been induced by the extreme heat, rather than the strain on his limbs and he appreciated the significant drop in temperature for his routine straight-sets win over Kei Nishikori in the second semi-final.

"These last two weeks have been good tennis and I think I'm just worn out", he said.

Nadal was immediately on the backfoot, dropping serve in the opening game of the match. Enough of working his way back only to get injured yet again.

The Spaniard was making him play that extra ball and forcing errors and like at Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year, del Potro nearly caved in squandering two set points when serving. They are the first pair to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year since Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge in 2003.

"I think it was 2-all in the first, 15-love, something like this in the first set, that I felt [something]", said Nadal.

But del Potro might have an ace up his sleeve - a group of 14 mates who have come to NY from his home town of Tandil, Argentina.

One of the greatest players of all time, the one chink in the Spaniard's armour has always been his knees with injuries plaguing him throughout his career. Against Federer in 2009, he was going for broke.

Rafael NadalAfter seven years of struggles, Nadal is finally looking like a contender again at Wimbledon and is playing a lot like the man who reached his fifth final in 2011, except for this flat-faced fall. His booming serve and monster forehand - famously compared to Thor - are his mightiest weapons.

"A group of about a dozen of del Potro's friends from Argentina would salute important points won by their guy, often breaking into choruses of "'Ole, ole, ole, ole, del Po, del Po!" But it is the narrative around them, that makes it more compelling. And he became the first man to do so at the US Open in the Open Era.

At his best, Djokovic has the patience and tactical nous to overcome that and his 14-4 record against the Argentine indicates he knows very well what he has to do to be victor on this occasion.

"I can't really say he's a great match-up for me", said the Serb.

Remarkably, it is the eighth US Open final the Serb has reached, and he could hardly look any more impressive in doing so as he continued his fine form in NY.

Novak DjokovicYou could cut the calmness on Djokovic's face with a knife as he took a fall on court, having sent the last British player out of Wimbledon, after fighting back from a set down to defeat Kyle Edmund.

Williams is set to play in her ninth U.S. Open final and 31st at all Grand Slam tournaments a year after she missed the tournament because she gave birth to her daughter, Olympia.

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