Rafael Nadal went into his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro with a relatively simple game plan: Stay away from the big guy’s flat, fearsome forehand and instead go after his weaker backhand.
Nadal tried that strategy just long enough to drop the opening set. Once he scrapped it on the fly, everything changed, and it did not take long for him to power into the final.
Closing in on a third title at Flushing Meadows and 16th Grand Slam championship overall, Nadal overcame a so-so start with an overwhelming performance the rest of the way on Friday, taking nine games in a row during one stretch to beat 2009 champion Del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.
“I was wrong in the way that I was trying to play, no?” Nadal said. “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 only had to cover 60 percent of the court most of the time,” he said.
Once the Spanish lefty started hitting more forehands down the line to the righty Del Potro’s backhand, Nadal said: “I was more unpredictable, and he was more in trouble, because he didn’t know where to go.”
“He played so smart from the second set until the end of the match,” Del Potro said. “He was dominant.”
No. 1 Nadal faces No. 32 Kevin Anderson of South Africa today.
Anderson beat Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to become the lowest-ranked US Open finalist since the ATP’s computer rankings began in 1973.
The 2.03m Anderson, who won an NCAA doubles title at the University of Illinois, is equipped with a big serve, certainly, but he only once had even been a quarter-finalist at a major until this week.
He has also lost all four previous matches against Nadal.
Nadal looked as good as ever over the final three sets against Del Potro, further confirmation of his return to the height of his powers.
Nadal is again healthy and capable of excellence after wrist and knee injuries dulled his effectiveness in 2015 and last year — the first seasons since 2004 in which he not only failed to win a Grand Slam trophy, but did not even make a final.
“It’s been an amazing season, of course, after a couple of years with some troubles, injuries, tough moments,” Nadal said.
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