Soon-to-be world No. 1 Rafael Nadal wore down Juan Martin del Potro to move into the US Open final on Friday, setting up a meeting with Kevin Anderson in the championship.
Del Potro had enough for one set, winning the first then running out of gas in a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 defeat.
“After a couple of years of tough moments, it has been an emotional year,” said Nadal after reaching his fourth US Open final. “But being back on this amazing court and in front of this amazing crowd, and having the chance to fight for this title is amazing for me.
“I played well. It was an important day for me. An important victory against a great opponent. I am playing well almost the whole season. So today was the day to play well. That’s the real thing. I was playing so-so at the beginning of the tournament and I have been playing better and better every day.”
After the first set Del Potro’s energy stalled and the Argentine lost the second set 6-0.
“Rafa just played even better the last three sets of the match and I couldn’t hit my backhand as good as I did in the beginning of the match,” said Del Potro. “He played so smart from the second set until the end of the match. He was dominant. He played well. He played so smart the second set, the third and the fourth. To be honest, I’m angry to lose a chance like this, but maybe tomorrow and after tomorrow, I will see how big the tournament was for me.”
En route to his fourth US Open final, Nadal improves to 23-3 in Grand Slam semifinal matches. He’s won 15 straight since that loss to Del Potro in the 2009 US Open semifinal. And Nadal almost didn’t get there if not for a tactical change after the first set.
“I was wrong in the way that I was trying to play,” Nadal said of the first. “When the match was coming, I started to understand a little bit better what I needed to do to try to be a little bit more unpredictable, because he was waiting for me in his backhand side.
“He was not moving from that side, so, yeah, I have to cover full court. He only had to cover 60% of the court most of the time. So was a big advantage for him. Then I decided to change completely to play much more forehands down the line, and then I was more unpredictable and he was more in trouble, because he didn’t know where to go.”
Anderson moved into his first Grand Slam final after beating Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. It was his third win over the Spaniard.
“It’s nice some of [the top players] gave us a shot to make a run,” the 32nd-ranked Anderson said. “This is why we work so hard. It was an unbelievably tough match for me. It was the first time for both of us on one of the most famous stages in tennis. I really had to dig deep, I think my emotion at the end summed it up.”
The 31-year-old Anderson will be the first South African to play in the final in New York since Cliff Drysdale in 1965. And he’ll try to become the first South African to win a Grand Slam since Johan Kriek at the 1981 Australian Open.
“Definitely amazing feeling being in this position and have worked very hard to get here,” Anderson said. “It feels great to be in the stage I’m in. More important, have given myself a shot at being in the finals and, you know, I will be playing for a Grand Slam trophy. That’s an amazing feeling.”
Carreno Busta was also appearing in his first Grand Slam semifinal.
“I think it was really good match,” the Spaniard said. “Maybe at the beginning he made a lot of mistakes, but I play aggressive, too. So I think the first set was very good for me. But then he started to play more aggressive, to serve really good, and to return my serve all the time.”
Nadal was won all four career meetings against Anderson, the most recent this year at Barcelona.
“Nadal’s, I think, one of the greatest competitors in sports, period,” Anderson said. “He’s an amazing fighter. You know, he really controls the court well, you know, the few times I have played him. I really need to be dominant and control proceedings as much as possible, because if you let him do it, it’s very difficult.”
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