Ruthless Rafa Sprints Into US Open Final
Vintage Rafael Nadal was on full display on Friday at the US Open. Behind a bevy of bludgeoning blasts and a hyper-aggressive gameplan, the World No. 1 will play for his third title in New York after streaking past Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.
Racing around the court and attacking off the ground with authority, Nadal secured his place in a fourth US Open final after two hours and 30 minutes. After dropping the opening set, Nadal sprinted to the finish line with a clinical performance, striking 45 winners, to just 20 unforced errors.
In what has been a resurgent 2017 campaign, the Spaniard made a statement in his bid to finish the year atop the Emirates ATP Rankings. Now a three-time Grand Slam finalist this year, Nadal will face Kevin Anderson for the crown at Flushing Meadows.
In total, Nadal will bid for a 16th Grand Slam title in what will be his fifth meeting with Anderson. He leads 4-0, with just one set lost. The Spaniard's last hard-court title came in Doha in 2014.
"After a couple of years of tough moments, it has been an emotional year," Nadal told ESPN in the post-match interview. "But being back on this amazing court and in front of this amazing crowd, and having the chance to fight for this title is amazing for me."
It was sweet revenge for Nadal, who extended his FedEx ATP Head2Head advantage over del Potro to 9-5, emerging victorious in their first encounter at the US Open since winning just six games in the 2009 semi-finals. He has now claimed 15 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final wins since that defeat eight years ago, and has halted a two-match skid against the big-hitting Argentine, who had most recently prevailed in a deciding tie-break at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"I played well," said Nadal. "It was an important day for me. An important victory against a great opponent. I am playing well almost the whole season. So today was the day to play well (smiling). That's the real thing. I was playing so-so at the beginning of the tournament and I have been playing better and better every day.
"Today was the day to play the best match of the tournament since that moment, because I played against the toughest opponent in that moment, and that opponent as I said before, was coming with big confidence. I woke up today and said to myself that today is the day that I'll play with the right energy and I needed to increase the level of my game.
"And I knew that. A lot of times I know that and it didn't happen, but today it happened. I felt that I was playing at the right level to win the match. And I did and I'm very happy."
With actors Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio, golfing legend Tiger Woods and fashion icon Anna Wintour in attendance, del Potro seized the first break for 3-2 as a forehand struck the net cord and dribbled over. The fortuitous bounce would be all the luck the Argentine needed, closing out the opener with eight of 10 service points won. He would punctuate the first set with a forehand fired down the line, his 12th winner.
Both players came out swinging on a brisk summer evening in New York. Nadal entered the semi-final with a tournament-leading 58 per cent of baseline points won, but it was del Potro who unloaded from the back of the court in the initial proceedings. Looking to create space with his thunderous forehand and blasting his backhand with full force, he pushed Nadal off the baseline and sent an early message.With actors Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio, golfing legend Tiger Woods and fashion icon Anna Wintour in attendance, del Potro seized the first break for 3-2 as a forehand struck the net cord and dribbled over. The fortuitous bounce would be all the luck the Argentine needed, closing out the opener with eight of 10 service points won. He would punctuate the first set with a forehand fired down the line, his 12th winner.
But as Nadal has done throughout his career, he found a way to flip the momentum in a flash. The swing was swift and sudden. The Spaniard was more hestitant to pull the trigger on his forehand down the line in the first set, but that would change in the second. Four quick winners off that wing was the reply he needed to put del Potro on his heels. Playing much faster and with more intensity, Nadal gave a big fist pump as he snatched a break for 2-0 and another two games later. Del Potro was suddenly rattled as his opponent employed more variety, firing drop shot winners and opening the angles. A bevy of deep returns earned him a third break, sealing the set with an emphatic 6-0 bagel after just 27 minutes.
Nadal refused to release his grip on the match as the third set got underway. Another forehand winner earned him the quick break in the second game and the rout was on. As fatigue began to set in for del Potro, Nadal's confidence reached atmospheric heights. Flying around the court with an injection of energy, he would reel off nine straight games before del Potro halted the skid with a hold for 1-3. With chants of 'DelPo!' 'DelPo!' raining down from all corners of Ashe, the Tandil native sought to give the boisterous Argentine contingent something to cheer for, but Nadal continued to exploit the tired legs of his opponent. He would sprint to a two-sets-to-one lead with a flurry of fist pumps after launching a forehand smash over the back wall and continued his assault in the fourth set. Nadal broke twice more and punctuated the affair with a backhand winner.
The stat of the match? Second serve points won. Nadal claimed an efficient 72 per cent of points in defending his second serve, while del Potro won just 28 per cent. The 2009 champion leaves Flushing Meadows with his head held high after a heroic run to the semi-finals. Following four wrist surgeries, he is back to playing some of the best tennis of his career. The former World No. 4 capped an inspiring run in New York, having saved two match points in stunning Dominic Thiem in the Round of 16, followed by a four-set win over Roger Federer on Wednesday.
"Rafa just played even better the last three sets of the match and I couldn't hit my backhand as good as I did in the beginning of the match," said Del Potro. "He played so smart from the second set until the end of the match. He was dominant. He played well. He played so smart the second set, the third and the fourth. To be honest, I'm angry to lose a chance like this, but maybe tomorrow and after tomorrow, I will see how big the tournament was for me."