In a clash of the titans, Rafael Nadal, three times a champion in New York and the world #1, takes on Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion and world #3. Nadal is looking for his second Major title of the year, after winning the French Open for the 11th time, and a sixth title for the year. It would also all but secure his grip on the year-end #1. But the mighty del Potro, the champion this year in Indian Wells and Acapulco, will have dreams of glory renewed. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and del Potro have met 16 times in a head-to-head that the Spaniard leads 11-5. That includes ten hard court clashes where they have split the wins five apiece. They have met in two US Open semifinals, with del Potro winning 6-2 6-2 6-2 in 2009 and Nadal 4-6 6-0 6-2 6-3 last year. They have also clashed twice already this year, in the semifinals at Roland Garros where Nadal dominated to win 6-4 6-1 6-2 and in a thriller in the Wimbledon quarterfinals that Nadal just edged 7-5 6-7 4-6 6-4 6-3.
Path to the semifinals
In the first round Nadal advanced when David Ferrer was forced to retire in the second set and he then crushed Vasek Pospisil 6-3 6-4 6-2. But Karen Khachanov pushed him to the brink before falling 7-5 5-7 6-7 6-7. Nikoloz Basilashvili also provided a stern test in a 6-3 6-3 6-7 6-4 Nadal win. In the quarterfinals he had to withstand an almighty storm conjured by the racquet of Dominic Thiem, who handed him a first set bagel. But Nadal hung tough and edged an instant classic 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 7-6.
The third seeded del Potro has found his path rather easier. He began with back-to-back demolitions of Donald Young and Denis Kudla, who he beat 6-0 6-3 6-4 and 6-3 6-1 7-6, respectively. Fernando Verdasco did give a good account of himself in a 5-7 6-7 3-6 loss in the third round, but an injured Borna Coric could offer little resistance in the fourth where del Potro won 6-4 6-3 6-1. He then battled past the big-serving American #1 John Isner 6-7 6-3 7-6 6-2, with the third set proving decisive.
How do they match up?
The most important shot in determining the outcome of this match will be del Potro’s forehand. Anything Nadal leaves short will be punished by the Argentine. The same can be said of anything he leaves central. Indeed, if del Potro is regularly able to find his forehand not even Nadal’s incredible defensive skills will be able to save him. First serves will be of great importance for del Potro as it will be essential for him to bring his forehand into play as the first shot of the rally as often as he can.
No one strikes their forehand with more venom and even Nadal’s compares unfavourably. He has also been hitting his backhand well though it is not nearly so threatening as his forehand. Or indeed Nadal’s backhand. Nadal’s cross-court backhand has been superb all tournament and he would do well to target the del Potro forehand with it. The Argentine may burn him for doing so on occasion, but if he can go there with enough power, he may be able to rob del Potro of his most potent weapon.
In several of their more recent clashes Nadal has won by running del Potro into the ground. But he has had the more taxing route to this match by some margin and he surely will not have enough in his legs to pursue that strategy. The court speed has also been favouring big-hitters, slow enough to give them time to wind up their big weapons, but fast enough to reward aggression. Three have already troubled Nadal and none possessed the power of del Potro. Expect him to stop Nadal in five.