Rafael Nadal beat Pablo Cuevas a year ago in the Rio quarterfinals. Tonight, Cuevas had his revenge in the semifinals hanging on to beat the former No. 1 in a 3-set marathon 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 6-4.
“I lost an opportunity, that’s it,” said Nadal who converted just two of 13 break chances. “I fought until the end. I have to accept it and keep working to try to change the dynamic. That’s what’s happening today and I have to work hard to change it.”
Nadal’s last title came in August when he beat Fabio Fognini to win Hamburg. And he’s still searching for his first Top 50 win of the season.
“I didn’t win a title, so it wasn’t a positive two tournaments. I had my chances in both. I lost in the semi-finals of both tournaments and just have to look forward to Indian Wells.”
Cuevas overcame an early break in the first to force a tiebreak. Then returned the favor in the second failing to maintain a break lead, but this time the Uruguayan won the break.
In the third, Cuevas rode the break and his serve with help from Nadal’s errors to record his first career victory over Spaniard in just under two and a half hours.
“This has been the greatest victory of all my career, winning against the best player in history in clay, so I’m very happy,” Cuevas said. “I always believed, being above or below. Even after one hour and a half and losing I believed that I could defeat him.”
Cuevas will meet surprising Guido Pella in the final after the Argentine snapped the 8-match win streak of Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-4.
“Today, he was just the better player on the court,” said Thiem. “He had the same conditions, but he just handled them better than me. Everything was at a couple percent less than the last matches.”
The Delray Beach semifinals also saw two unexpected results. First, unheralded Rajeev Ram stunned Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first hardcourt ATP final.
“My career has always been about improving and enjoying myself,” said Sampras-esque Ram. “Some of the things I’ve worked on in the last eight month have really translated. Things such as switching to a bigger, more powerful racquet to stay on offence a bit more.”
Dimitrov falls to 0-2 against Ram.
“He was returning well and putting me in uncomfortable positions,” Dimitrov said. “There was just nothing out there on my side, but that’s just one tennis match. Onto the next week.”
In the evening, the return of Juan Martin del Potro came to an end at the hands of Sam Querrey who beat the former US Open champion 7-5, 7-5.
“That’s the best I’ve played so far and I did a good job of taking care of my own serve,” said Querrey, who did not face a break point during the one-hour and 20-minute affair. “I got a couple late breaks in each set. There were a couple chances here and there and I managed to get those.
“It’s always exciting to make a final. I’ve known Rajeev for 11 years. He’s got that Pete Sampras flat forehand and will serve and volley. It’s a different game from many guys. He’ll chip the ball around. That will be tough, especially in the day.”
Despite the loss, Del Potro felt positive about the week, his first tournament in 11 months.
“I always try to win, that’s for sure,” Del Potro said. “But this week I won more than a tournament. I’m so glad to play tennis again.”
The Argentine will take a few weeks off before taking a wildcard into Indian Wells.
“I can confirm I will play in Indian Wells, which is good news for me,” del Potro said. “I have a few weeks to rest and to train. I will be there to play another tournament and I’m looking forward to the future. I can start to make a plan to play more tournaments. I have many positive things to take from this.”
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