Rafa Nadal moved one win away from a third US Open title and 16th Grand Slam crown on Friday when he defeated a tired-looking Juan Martín del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.
Anderson, first South African finalist at the US Open
The 31-year-old Spaniard, champion in New York in 2010 and 2013, will be playing in his 23rd Slam final and third this year, looking to add the US title to his record 10th French Open. In Sunday's final, the world number one will face 32nd-ranked Kevin Anderson, the first South African in the championship match in 52 years. Anderson reached his maiden final at the majors by beating 12th-seeded Pablo Carreño Busta 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
“I've had an amazing season after some tough moments with injuries in recent years”, said a triumphant Nadal, who started 2017 by finishing runner-up to Federer in Australia. “It's a very emotional year for me. I am in the final again and get the chance to fight for another title which is very important”.
He added that the key to Friday's win was a change of tactics after the first set. “I played too much to his backhand and I felt he was waiting for me there. I changed it and it worked very well. I made him move more and make it all more unpredictable”.
Nadal eager not to underestimate Anderson
The Spaniard finished with 45 winners and 20 unforced errors to Del Potro's 23 and 40. Despite a 4-0 winning record over Anderson, he said he will not underestimate his opponent on Sunday. “He is a very dangerous player with a big serve and plays very well on this surface. I have known him since we were 12. He's had many injuries but the way he has come back is a great example to the kids”.
Del Potro, who saved two match points against Dominic Thiem in a last-16 tie from which he almost retired with illness, gained the only break of the first set in the fifth game off a fortunate net cord. However, few would begrudge the Argentine a little luck after he was pushed to the brink of retirement by four wrist surgeries that saw his ranking slip as low as 1,045 and forced him to miss 10 Grand Slam tournaments.
Nadal retaliates in second set
Nadal hit back with venom, gathering three breaks to take the second set in just 26 minutes as the Argentine suffered a power cut of staggering proportions. The Spaniard, watched by Tiger Woods in his player's box, then raced into a 3-0 lead in the third before Del Potro stopped the rot, having lost nine games in succession.
The Argentine saved two set points in the eighth game but Nadal soon wrapped it up at the next time of asking, pushing his opponent into desperate defense before the delivering the killer blow into an open court. Nadal, beaten by Del Potro at the same stage in 2009, tightened the noose with two breaks for 4-1 and easy hold for 5-1.
It was all over in the eighth game when Nadal buried unleashed a backhand winner. “I'm angry to lose a chance like this, but maybe tomorrow I will be calm and see how big the tournament was for me”, Del Potro said.