This U.S. Open has been full of upsets and ironies. The women's top seeds fell apart, two of the top three contenders for the men’s championship did not manage to make it to the semifinals, two players came back from sabbatical or injuries and surprised everybody...
The tournament also faced an irony as it celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Super Saturday—this term was coined after 1984—by...not celebrating it at all! Rains have forced it to a Super Sunday, when the two men’s semifinals and the women’s finals will be played.
The first of the semis is between No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro and No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal, who are both aiming for their first U.S. Open final appearance. In fact, should del Potro go through, this will be his maiden Grand Slam final.
As always, Bleacher Report brings you its Creature vs. Creature analysis for this much anticipated contest. This column will discuss the Argentine’s chances, while antiMatter—who enjoys going against the popular notion—will discuss the chances of hearing a "Vamos" after the final point.
Juan Martin del Potro
Del Potro became a sudden star in 2008. He took a giant leap into the top 10 after winning four consecutive tournaments, but he failed to impress later. His routine losses to top players, including the double bagel against Federer in Australia, highlighted many limitations in his game, like stiff movement, lack of physical fitness, and mental ability.
Since his reinvention, he has looked a completely different player. His serve is one of the most reliable weapons—he is third in the aces for the tournament and first among the top 10 seeds, he is prepared to slug it out on court as far as possible, and he has increased his physical fitness.
His movement on court is highly fluid—as Rob says, almost unfair for such a tall player at 6'6"—and his volleys are top class. In simple terms, he now possesses an all court game and looks ready for his first Grand Slam title. He was impressive enough at Washington and Montreal to enjoy a luxury of a break at Cincinnati.
He is peaking at the crucial time at the Open, and his performance against Cilic would indicate that Rafa will face a tough time.
Will Win If…
Del Potro has won the last two contests against his semifinal opponent. The contest at Montreal will not mean much, since Rafa was coming straight back from injury, but he should take cues from his performance at Miami where he defeated Nadal in a third set tie-breaker.
The crux of the contest was "keep the points short." Del Potro is a naturally aggressive player, and he should play aggressively. The surface at the Open will favor such play, too. Rafa’s heavy top-spin will not kick through the asphalt and will be at a comfortable hitting zone for the Argentine.
Del Potro’s long strides helps him to be in a better position to move around the court, which is Nadal’s trump card, while his superior anticipation of his opponent’s next shot will be vital. Del Potro was struggling against Nadal’s drop shots in Indian Wells, but he comfortably strode toward the net at French Open whenever Federer tried—and failed on many occasions—his perfectly disguised drop shot.
Del Potro will rush through his service games faster than Nadal using his effective serve, getting a lot of free points. He has hit 68 aces so far compared to Nadal’s 13 and will be at a clear advantage.
All the evidence points to a match in which del Potro will fancy his chances against the Spaniard.
Will Lose If…
...he tries to rally with Nadal. He committed this mistake at Indian Wells, trading top-spin forehands with Nadal. Nadal is simply not going to spare him if that is the case. His returns were pathetic when he was slicing the ball, even on forehand side, which allowed Nadal to come in and drill his ferocious inside out forehand.
Nadal has developed a very good backhand slice, and it will stay low to the surface. He will force del Potro to come in on such slices and attempt passing shots. A player like Federer would thrive on such shots, but del Potro might struggle with his tall frame.
Of course, if the match goes to five sets, then Nadal is unbeatable. One would need to go more than two years back in history when Nadal last lost a five-set match—against Federer in Wimbledon 2007.
It has rained a lot in Flushing, and weather may play a major part once again. If it rains in between and there are disruptions, Nadal will seize the advantage, since his extreme focus does not allow such interruptions to distract him. We saw that in his match against Gonzo.
If it does not rain and the sun comes out—which is the forecast, according to weather.com—it will get extremely humid due to the rains, and del Potro will suffer with his fitness, which has still not reached its peak. It will certainly not help del Potro’s chances, since the match is scheduled at noon.
On the issue of fitness, Nadal’s fitness is not fully known too. It is for sure that the tendinitis injury is no longer bothering him, as he has run around almost perfectly during the Open. His abdominal injury might be a factor, though. He called for a trainer during his match against Almagro, and he took a full day’s rest yesterday.
The relentless Spaniard has kept it numb—a wise thing to do—but we will have to wait and see if it does affect him or not.
Shots To Watch Out For
If will be interesting to watch the battle between Nadal’s forehand and del Potro’s backhand. As I said before, Nadal’s top spin is not likely to be a problem for the Argentine, but still it is Nadal’s favorite shot, which he will use frequently.
Del Potro will use the classic one-two punch—the server and forehand combination—and use his improved volleying skills to approach the net quite often. He has enjoyed good success at the net leading up to the tournament, but then he has also not met any player with Nadal’s passing abilities.
His unique fist pump, with which tries to dig a hole in the surface, may not be as attractive as Rafa’s, but it sure is effective.
Del Potro has shown maturity, desire, and intelligence to be a potential Grand Slam champion. This is a very good opportunity for him.
The Argentine will fix his date for the championship match after four sets.