Winner of 22 Grand Slam doubles titles, Todd Woodbridge assesses the US Open 2017 semifinal between Team Europe’s Rafael Nadal (1) and Team World’s Juan Martin Del Potro (28).
When the Laver Cup was announced 12 months ago in New York, Rafael Nadal gave his commitment to play on the basis he would be fit and on tour. Who would have thought that 12 months later, the Spaniard would be the No.1 player in the world and the leading player for Team Europe at the Laver Cup.
Nadal has a formidable record against most players in the International team, but there is one he will be especially wary of facing: Juan Martin Del Potro. They have competed against each other 13 times dating back to 2007, and while Nadal leads their head-to-head 8-5, the last time they played was at the Rio Olympics where the Argentine struck a blow to the Spaniard’s medal hopes.
So their US Open 2017 semifinal in New York on Friday night will be a fascinating encounter. After disposing of young gun Dominic Thiem in the round of 16, and then the more fancied world No.3 Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, Juan Martin is a man to be feared. And Nadal knows it.
Rafael Nadal, 31, possesses a formidable competitive spirit, athleticism and fierce determination. He dominated the claycourt season in 2017 culminating in his 10th Roland Garros title, but lost to Gilles Muller in the third round at Wimbledon and only played two events on American hard courts before the US Open (upset by Denis Shapovalov in Montreal and Nick Kyrgios at Cincinnati). His return to form and the No.1 ranking has been inspired by more aggressive tennis.
Juan Martin del Potro, 28, is one of the few players out of the world’s top five that is capable of beating a world No.1 on any given day.
A former US Open champion, who is one of the cleanest ball-strikers in tennis, Delpo has the ability to out-hit anyone with his powerful forehand. He is equally at home on all four surfaces and considered one of the best sports in the game.
Look for this match to be incredibly tight. Del Potro is one of the few players capable of hitting through the defence of Nadal. Key for Del Potro is to serve well and keep Nadal deep in the court. Nadal comes into this match with an 8-5 lead, but this is a more even playing field because of the high stakes. Delpo will remember that at their last meeting, the Rio Olympics, he beat Nadal 5-7 6-4 7-6 in the semifinals to become the silver medalist. For Rafa to win, he needs to remain aggressive from the outset, especially on his second serve, using his forehand to open up the court and expose the agility of del Potro.