Tennis Channel breaks down the men’s semifinals at the U.S. Open, where Rafael Nadal defeated Juan Martin del Potro and Kevin Anderson beat Pablo Carreno Busta.

NEW YORK — It was not that many years ago that tennis fans believed that Rafael Nadal’s best days were behind him because of his constant run-in with injuries. 

But to underestimate the desire and competitive nature that is Rafael Nadal is not clever.

Nadal is now set to play in his third Grand Slam final this year at the U.S. Open on Sunday. The last time he competed in three Grand Slam finals was in 2011 — he won the French Open that year, but was a runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

This year Nadal lost a five-set marathon in which he was up a break in the fifth to Roger Federer in Australia, before capturing his 10th French Open title.

The 31-year-old, now enjoying his fourth career stint as the world No. 1, ended Juan Martin del Potro’s dream of a second U.S. Open title by taking their semifinal 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday night. 

More: Tiger Woods sits in Rafa Nadal’s box for U.S. Open semifinal

More: Friends Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens face off in first U.S. Open final

More: Madison Keys dominates CoCo Vandeweghe to reach U.S. Open final

“It’s been an amazing season after a couple of years with troubles, injuries,” Nadal said. “It’s very emotional for me to be on this amazing court in front of an amazing crowd, to be in another final and to have a chance to fight for another title.”

Nadal, who is now in line for a third U.S. Open trophy, has won 15 Grand Slam titles in his career, placing him second behind Federer’s men’s record of 19 victories at the majors.

The Spanish conquistador won his most recent Grand Slam in Paris, becoming the first player in the Open era to win the same major on 10 occasions. Prior to the French Open victory, he also won a 10th career title at the Monte Carlo and Barcelona clay court tournaments this season.

Nadal’s now won all 15 Grand Slam semifinals he’s played since he was sent packing in the 2009 U.S. Open semifinal by none other than Juan Martin del Potro, who captured his lone Grand Slam title here in New York that year.

At the outset of the match it looked as if Nadal might fall short of the mark on this cool night. Fearing going to the 24th-seeded del Potro’s brutal forehand, Nadal’s tactic was to route his shots to the Argentine’s backhand. But del Potro’s backhand was surprisingly punishing — he would break the Spaniard for the only time in the match with a backhand winner at ad-out in the fifth game of the first set.

As it turned out that first set was a fatigued del Potro’s last gasp at this Open. Having fought off a cold all week, and saving two match points against sixth seed Dominic Thiem in a five-set thriller in the fourth round, and turning back Federer in the quarterfinals, del Potro had nothing more to give.

“I just tired. I been exhausted after Thiem match, Roger match,” del Potro said.  “I had flu during the week. So I had many problems before this match, but I was very motivated to play the semifinal in my best tournament. I think he just play better than me. He deserve to win, and I did all my best, all my effort to survive this match, but I couldn’t do well.”

Once Nadal switched his game plan, bringing more variety into his shot-making and making the Argentine cover more ground on the court, he became the ruthless warrior he’s known to be. When the 2-hour, 31-minute match drew to its conclusion, Nadal posted 45 winners to 20 unforced errors, while del Potro had 23 winners and 40 unforced errors.

Nadal, who last played in the U.S. Open final in 2013, hasn’t won a hard court title since  the 2014 Doha tournament, which takes place during the first week of the year.

On Sunday, he will take on first-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson of South Africa, who like Nadal is 31, for a 16th career Grand Slam trophy. 

“It is almost impossible, but here we are,” said Nadal, of this incredible year in which he’s already won four titles. 


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions