It was a heroic fortnight for Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open. But the 2009 champion saw his fairytale run come to an end on Friday evening at Flushing Meadows, succumbing to Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 in the semi-finals.
Del Potro started strong, launching his forehand and backhand to claim the opener after 50 minutes. Despite being overcome by fatigue, the Argentine gave full credit to his opponent, as Nadal seized the initiative with an aggressive mindset in the second, third and fourth sets.
“Today I think he had the game to win, to beat me, and to win the tournament,” del Potro told the assembled media following the match. “He played very smart from the second until the end of the match, because I was just standing all the time on my left side and once he played down the line, he won the point.
“I think at the beginning of the match, he was playing all the time to my backhand, trying to see how good is my backhand at this moment. It was good, but it wasn’t good enough to play a four-set, five-set match. And I couldn’t make any winners in the match, which you must do a lot of winners against Rafa.”
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Del Potro inspired the tennis world at the US Open. The Tandil native went from being on the verge of falling over while struggling with the flu and a fever against Dominic Thiem in the Round of 16, to stunning Roger Federer two days later. He fought off two match points to defeat Thiem, storming back from 1-6, 2-6 down, before stopping a highly anticipated Nadal-Federer semi-final with an upset of the Swiss on Wednesday.
After four wrist surgeries, del Potro showed the heart that endeared him to a legion of fans throughout his career. It was his first appearance in the last four of a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2013.
“I’m just tired. I’ve been exhausted after the Thiem match and the Roger match. I had a flu during the week. So I had many problems before this match, but I was very motivated to play the semi-final in my best tournament. I think he just played better than me. He deserved to win and I did all my best, all my effort to survive this match, but I couldn’t do well.”
On Monday, del Potro will return to the Top 25 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time since October 2014. Projected to move to No. 24, the top Argentine was appearing in his second tour-level semi-final of the year (Delray Beach).