For the second time this year Rafael Nadal couldn’t finish a hard court Grand Slam. The Spaniard was resuming his US Open title defense this evening in the semifinals against Juan Martin del Potro when once again knee troubles arose, forcing him to retire down 7-6(3), 6-2 due to tendinitis in his right knee.
“I waited as much as I can,” Nadal said. “You could imagine very difficult for me to say goodbye before the match finish. But at some point you have to take a decision. It was so difficult for me to keep playing at the same time that way, having too much pain.”
The two former champions went back and forth, twice trading breaks in a very competitive first set. Nadal sought out the trainer at 3-4 to wrap his right knee, only two have the trainer remove the strapping on the very next changeover. The Argentine pulled ahead in the breaker and took the opener, just as he did a year ago in this same round against Rafa.
But after nearly 16 hours of play leading up to the match, Nadal’s right knee couldn’t hold up anymore. Nadal once again asked for the trainer to wrap the knee, but nothing was working. The pain was there, preventing the World No. 1 from going after shots and playing defense.
Nadal even quipped to the umpire that the bad calls didn’t matter anymore because he was going to retire. After dropping the second he finally did.
“That was not a tennis match at the end,” Nadal said. “It was just one player playing, the other one staying on the other side of the court. I hate to retired, but stay one more set out there playing like this will be too much for me.”
Nadal said early on he felt something wasn’t right.
“I think was 2-All in the first, 15-Love, something like this in the first set, that I felt,” he said. “I said too my box immediately that I felt something on the knee. After that, I was just trying to see if in some moment the thing can improve during the match. But no, was not the day.”
With Davis Cup next weekend and then Laver Cup, Nadal isn’t sure when he’ll be ready to play again.
“It’s not an injury that tells you three weeks off and you are back,” he said. “Is not an injury that tells you six months off, you are back. Is maybe an injury that in one week you feel better, is an injury that maybe in six months you don’t feel better.
“I know what is going on with the knee. But the good thing is I know how I have to work to be better as soon as possible because we have a lot of experience on that.”
Del Potro advanced to his first Grand Slam final since his 2009 US Open title when he also beat Nadal in the final.
“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam finals in here, which is my favorite tournament,” said del Potro who had lost to Rafa in three of the last four Slams coming in. ‘So it would be special to me. Would be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment.
“I’m here now. It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyways.”
Del Potro said he noticed Nadal’s knee issues.
“I saw him suffering a lot during the second set,” said del Potro. “I was trying just to do my game. But, of course, I saw Rafa with some pains. I say to myself that just stay focus on my game, don’t look at him because you never know what could happen in that situations.
“But, of course, when I saw him with bad movements, I start to play aggressive, putting him running a lot. Then he decide to stop.”
Del Potro will have to repeat his 2009 performance when he beat two of the Big 4, only Sunday he’ll face Novak Djokovic instead of Roger Federer.
Djokovic crushed Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to reach his eighth US Open final and 23rd Grand Slam final. The reigning Wimbledon champion has won his last 13 matches in Grand Slam play, and against Nishikori, it’s 14 straight sets since losing to the Japanese No. 1 in the 2014 US Open semifinals.
I was coming into today’s match knowing I’m going to play a player who is very quick and takes away a lot of the time from his opponent,” said Djokovic. “He just likes to go for his shots. I knew that if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, that I’ll have my chance to kind of breakthrough and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors.
“That’s what happened. I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. I was returning well. I was putting constant pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always. The match was really, really good from my side.”
Nishikori, who like Djokovic also missed the 2017 US Open, wasn’t up to the challenge today.
“He was playing very solid with everything, serve, return and groundstrokes,” said Nishikori. “He was playing aggressive. I didn’t have much energy to stay with him. He was hitting side to side. I think I was just tired from the last couple matches. I was trying to give 100 percent, but he was playing very solid. Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I might have chance to play a little better. But he was playing great tennis today. Credit to him.
Djokovic enters the final blisteringly hot, winning his last 13 sets at the US Open. And he leads del Potro 14-4 winning all three meetings last year and in Slams his 4-0, 2-0 at the US Open.
“It will be a difficult match because we are close friends,” del Potro said of the Serb. “For sure we both wants to win. But Novak has won the Wimbledon already. He’s playing so good. He will be the favorite to win on Sunday.
“But I don’t know. When I played Roger nine years ago, he was the favorite to win, as well. I will try to make the surprise again.”
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