Sunday 18 February 2018

Nadal on the cusp of 16th Grand Slam after surging past Del Potro to clinch US Open final place

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates defeating Andrey Rublev of Russia after their Men's Singles Quarterfinal match on Day Ten of the 2017 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 6, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates defeating Andrey Rublev of Russia after their Men's Singles Quarterfinal match on Day Ten of the 2017 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 6, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Eleanor Crooks

Rafael Nadal defeated a weary Juan Martin del Potro to set up a US Open final against Kevin Anderson.

After upsetting Roger Federer to prevent a first Flushing Meadows clash between the two giants of men's tennis, Del Potro was looking to engineer a repeat of 2009.

On that occasion he allowed Nadal just six games in the semi-finals before beating Federer over five sets to win his first, and so far only, grand slam title.

It looked a distinct possibility when he powered his way to the opening set but he could not sustain the pace and Nadal romped home to win 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-2.

Ahead of his 23rd slam final, the world number one said: "It means a lot. It's been an amazing season after a couple of years with some troubles. This year since the beginning has been very emotional.

"To have the chance to be in another final here is very, very important for me. We did a lot of good work, we believed in what we were doing and I still have the passion and the love for this game."

The Spaniard is looking to win his first grand slam title away from the French Open since the second of his titles in New York in 2013 and match Federer by claiming two slams this season.

He will be a hot favourite to do so against first-time finalist Anderson, who was the man to take advantage of the open bottom half of the draw.

The 31-year-old, who stands 6ft 8in, defeated Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 to become the first South African player to reach a grand slam singles final since Kevin Curren made two in the mid-1980s.

Anderson celebrated by climbing into the stands to greet his support team, something usually reserved for the champion.

But it was tough to begrudge Anderson his moment given the years of hard work to get to a position he surely never thought would come.

And, if Nadal can maintain the form he showed against Del Potro, it will take a truly exceptional performance to deny him a 16th major title.

The last time the 31-year-old lost a slam semi-final was here eight years ago and the memories must have come flooding back in the opening set as Del Potro hammered forehands into the corners.

The Argentinian's backhand, so compromised by the four wrist surgeries he has undergone since 2009, also held up remarkably well to its interrogation by Nadal forehand.

But Del Potro's road to the last four was significantly tougher than Nadal's and that soon began to show.

While Nadal was racing to speedy wins over Alexandr Dolgopolov and Andrey Rublev, Del Potro was fighting the effects of a heavy cold, coming back from two sets down to defeat Dominic Thiem and then finding a way past Federer.

As Nadal cranked up his forehand, Del Potro's legs slowed. Tiger Woods, sitting in Nadal's box, was among the enthusiastic supporters as the top seed reeled off nine games in a row before Del Potro finally stopped the rot.

Nadal has come a long way in eight years on hard courts and, although Del Potro tried to dig in, the pressure from the other end was relentless.

Anderson briefly made the top 10 two years ago when he beat Andy Murray here to reach the quarter-finals but he has struggled with injuries since.

The most serious of them was a hip problem that ruled him out of the Australian Open and left him fearing he would need surgery.

He said: "It's definitely an amazing feeling being in this position and I have worked very hard to get here. I have given myself a shot at being in the finals and I will be playing for a grand slam trophy.

"These grand slams are tough. We've been privileged to play with some of the best players to ever play the game and it's nice that some of them gave us a shot at this tournament."

Anderson began nervously against Carreno Busta, understandably aware of the opportunity in front of him, but once he found his range in the second set he began to dominate.

The South African eventually proved too powerful for his opponent, and, like Nadal, he had major-winning support in the shape of golfers Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Anderson said: "I'm trying really hard to be able to join their ranks. It was really nice that they came out and watched me play today."

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