Juan Martin del Potro has continued his fairy tale run at the US Open, repeating his 2009 final victory over Roger Federer to set a semi-final showdown with World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. The 6’ 6” Argentine, who in the previous round rallied from two sets and two match points down to beat Dominic Thiem, defeated five-time champion Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8) 6-4. Del Potro saved four set points in the pivotal third-set tie-break.
“I played my best match of the tournament,” del Potro told ESPN during his on-court interview, in between soccer-like celebrations and chants from Argentine fans.
“I served well and hit my forehand as hard as I can. We played a great match and I think I deserved to win in the end.” Asked about the vociferous crowd support, del Potro said, “I think it’s my home court. You make me so happy every time I play here. I love to see the crowd chanting for me.
“I can’t believe I will play in the semi-finals agains after all my injuries, after all my surgeries. Especially to play here in New York, my favourite tournament.”
Although Nadal leads the FedEx ATP head2head series 8-5 against del Potro, the Argentine has won their past two meetings and in 2009 he dismissed the Spaniard 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the US Open semi-finals.
Wednesday’s result denied Federer a shot at Nadal in the semi-finals in a match that would have given him the chance to dethrone the Spaniard as World No. 1 and the opportunity to win a 20th Grand Slam title after earlier triumphs this year at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Federer, who last won the US Open in 2008, has never played Nadal at Flushing Meadows.
Federer praised del Potro and said that he deserved the victory. “He came up with the goods when he needed to and I helped him a little bit sometimes too maybe. But he was better today, especially on the big points… In some ways I’m actually happy I made the quarters, so I’m not disappointed, because it’s been a good run this year already. Unfortunately I ran into a guy who was better than me today.”
Federer said that he was disappointed he could not produce his best tennis during the Open but that he was not consumed by the missed opportunity to play for the World No. 1 title in the semis against Nadal.
“I didn’t even think about it, as I lost that match, that [a semi-final with Nadal] is not going to happen. I’m dealing with just trying to understand what happened and just to overcome this in the next few hours, days, weeks.
“Of course it is a pity, but Juan Martin deserves it more. I feel I have no place in the semis and he will have a better chance to beat Rafa, to be honest. The way I played or [am] playing right now, it’s not good enough in my opinion to win this tournament. It’s better I’m out and somebody else gets a chance to do better than me.”
Comeback For The Ages: Del Potro Saves 2 MP To Stun Thiem
With boisterous Flushing Meadows crowd support equally split between two of the game’s most popular players, del Potro brought his A-game, underpinned by his booming serve and forehand, which had Federer on the defensive early. Del Potro’s forehand was overpowering throughout and his two-handed backhand, as the match wore on, looked its strongest since his return from wrist surgery.
Del Potro also looked much healthier than he did two days ago in the fourth round, when, suffering from flu-like symptoms, he eked out just three games in the first two sets against Thiem. And just as raucous support inspired him to victory against the Austrian, so too did passionate fans boost del Potro against Federer, who so rarely shares crowd support with his opponent.
HOW THE MATCH PLAYED OUT
Both players exposed their pre-match game plans from the outset. Del Potro clubbed a massive down-the-line forehand winner past an approaching Federer on the second point of the match. He also hit forehands about 75 per cent of times after a serve.
The Swiss hit three drop shots in the first eight points in an attempt to test the legs of del Potro following his grueling five-set win two days earlier against Thiem.
Perhaps unsettled by a 100 mph forehand winner that clipped the baseline on the previous point, Federer double faulted at 5-5 30/30 to concede the first break point of the match. A tentative Federer forehand volley set up a trademark running del Potro crosscourt forehand that clinched the break and a 6-5 lead for the 6’ 6” Argentine.
Showing no sign of nerves, Del Potro put four of five first serves into play when serving for the set, on pace with the astonishing 78 first-serve percentage in the set (25/32).
Federer had success at key moments in the second set bringing del Potro forward with his short, chip sliced backhand, including to convert break point for a 4-1 lead. He also had more success finding the Argentine’s backhand, setting up an inside-out forehand winner on set point to level the match. Del Potro also paid the price for seeing his first-serve percentage drop to 57.
But Federer immediately handed back the momentum, hitting two unforced forehand errors and a double fault on break point to drop his opening service game of the third set. Del Potro also rediscovered the key to his first-set success, putting 10 of 11 first serves into play while racing to a 3-0 lead.
The five-time US Open champion would not go away, however. Although he continued to be plagued by netted forehand errors, Federer hung tough, fighting off a break point to avoid slipping into an 0-4 abyss. After stretching del Potro from side to side to earn a break chance at 2-4 30/40, he saw the first sign of vulnerability from the Tandil native, who double faulted to hand back the break.
In the third-set tie-break, Federer was left ruing a decision to serve wide to del Potro’s forehand in the deuce court when holding two set points at 6/4. Del Potro belted a flat forehand that landed on the inside of the baseline, leaving Federer with no hope of returning it. It was the first of four set points that the Swiss could not convert in the tie-break. Del Potro converted his first set point when Federer, serve/volleying for the third consecutive time, pushed a backhand volley long.
In the fourth set, two critical moments allowed del Potro to bust open the match. At 2-2 30-all, Federer dumped a routine smash into the net. On break point, del Potro rifled a cross-court backhand winner of a Federer first-serve past the incoming Swiss for a clean winner. From there, del Potro’s overwhelming serve didn’t allow Federer back into the match.