Nadal powers into US Open final after blitzing Del Potro

World number one Rafael Nadal came from a set down as he dismantled Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open semifinals.

World number one Rafael Nadal faces South Africa's Kevin Anderson next, in a bid for a 16th Grandslam.   -  Getty Images

A man can only do so much. On Friday, Juan Martin del Potro seemed much like a battle-tested veteran. His legs were heavy and his eyes looked sunken, and not even his fans — who took him through flu, fever and Federer — could save him from a 6-4, 0-6, 3-6, 2-6 loss to World No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the semifinals of the US Open.

Read: 'Angry' del Potro backs Nadal to win US Open title

Nothing does the story of resurgence better like tennis and no story has been more heartwarming than that of del Potro. After making a comeback last year from a series of wrist injuries, del Potro rose from being No. 1,042 in the world and now sits comfortably at 28, a ranking that utterly belies his abilities. His rise has been constantly punctured by brutal draws, much like at the US Open this year — in his road to the semifinal, he had to defeat three top players ranked No. 13, No. 8 and No. 3.  

Sure, the brutally physical matches might have finally caught up with him, but try telling that to his forehand, easily the most deadly shot in the current game. The first set was filled with moments when the crowd collectively inhaled its breath as his forehand rocketed the court at 110 mph. One such gave him a crucial break, and aided by a fortuitous net cord, he took the first set comfortably at 6-4. 

But who else knows better the frustration of injuries and missing Grand Slam tournaments than Nadal? What followed the first set was a crushing, clinical destruction of del Potro’s game, something he never really recovered from. It seemed like Nadal’s rage at losing the first set knew no bounds and he started to bravely pick at his opponent’s strong forehand instead of going for his relatively weaker backhand. “Then I was more unpredictable and he was in more trouble, because he didn't know where to go,” Nadal explained later. Nadal sent a few breath-takers down the line - something that he had scarcely attempted in the first set - and pounced on short balls, chasing del Potro left and right. The Argentinian had nothing left in his tank and could secure only one winner, compared to Nadal’s 13.

Del Potro’s constant efforts at establishing a rhythm were disrupted by the Spaniard who was able to set his own pace. During one stretch, Nadal won nine consecutive games. Del Potro was out of strength and out of answers. The stressed grunts from the gentle giant grew louder. And as Nadal won the set 6-0, the oles from the upper deck had quietened down. 

It was quiet clear — there would be no repeat of the thrashing Nadal received at del Potro’s hands in the semifinal of that 2009 US Open, his last Grand Slam semifinal loss.

Del Potro’s feeble attempts at trying to make a comeback in the third and fourth sets much like the one against Dominic Thiem were shortlived, as Nadal only managed to gather more steam. He posted 45 winners to 20 unforced errors, while del Potro had 23 winners and 40 unforced errors.

When the 2-hour 31-minute match drew to its conclusion and the crowd yelled “Vamos!” after match point, Nadal never looked stronger and more commanding. 

This was as close to a marquee match the Arthur Ashe Stadium audience has enjoyed on the wrung-out men’s side of the tournament. Nadal will play the 28th-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa on Sunday for his 16th Grand Slam title. Anderson, 31, beat the 12th-seeded Pablo Carreño Busta, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 3-4, in the first semifinal of the day.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN 

Nadal [1] bt Del Potro [24] 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-2
WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal - 45/20
Del Potro - 23/40
ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 
Nadal - 5/2
Del Potro -7/4
BREAK POINTS WON 
Nadal - 6/13
Del Potro - 1/2
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE 
Nadal - 72
Del Potro - 66
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE 
Nadal - 77/72
Del Potro - 71/28
TOTAL POINTS 
Nadal - 109
Del Potro - 76