It appears the Tennis Gods don’t want to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play in New York. Ever.
Juan Martin del Potro made sure the tennis world won’t see that match this year when he beat Federer, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 in 2 hours, 52 minutes in a dramatic quarterfinal Wednesday night before more than 23,000 in Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was the second-straight time del Potro has beaten Federer in New York, dating to his memorable win in the 2009 US Open final.
After he hit a forehand winner on match point, the 6-foot-6 Argentine looked to the sky and extended both arms in celebration.
“I played my best match of the tournament,” del Potro said on the court. “I served good and I hit my forehand as hard as I can and I think we played a good match.”
To the crowd, he added, “I know against Rafa the crowd will be tough for me, but I hope you are there cheering for me again.
Rafael Nadal held up his end of the bargain earlier Wednesday when he beat Russia’s Andrey Rublev, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
“Of course it is a pity, but, you know, Juan Martin deserves it more,” Federer said. “I feel I have no place in the semis and he will have a better chance to beat Rafa, to be honest. The way I played or playing right now, it’s not good enough in my opinion to win this tournament. It’s better I’m out and somebody else gets a chance to do better than me.”
“Juan Martin is a top player, no?” Nadal said. “Is true that when he’s playing well, it’s difficult to stop him. Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the tour. And of course, to win tonight, he should be serving well. If he serves well and hit well his forehand, he’s a player that has the chance to win against, of course, everybody.”
Nadal is 8-5 against Del Potro, but the Argentine has won the last two matches, both on outdoor hardcourts. He also crushed Nadal 6-2,-6-2, 6-2 in the 2009 semifinals. Their showdown in Friday’s semifinals will take place after the under card of No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain against No. 28 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
Del Potro admitted he was considering retirement in the second set of his last match against No. 6 Dominic Thiem on Monday after he had been sick for two days. But after trailing two-sets-to-love he rallied behind the support of the crowd and won in five sets. There were questions about his stamina and fitness coming into the Federer match, but he quickly answered those.
Now del Potro has a chance to win his second Slam and who would bet against him? He beat Nadal and Federer back-to-back when he won the title in 2009. That was eight years and four wrist surgeries ago.
But on this night he looked as brilliant as ever.
Federer had four set points in the critical third-set tiebreaker but could not convert and ultimately lost the breaker 10-8 when he hit a backhand volley long on his serve.
“I don’t know, I think I got lucky,” del Potro said. “But in the end, I got lucky and made good returns and good slice.”
Del Potro then broke Federer in the fifth game of the fourth set with a backhand passing shot that stunned Federer and the crowd.
“If I play against him, of course, I have to play my best tennis,” Nadal said. “I need to be very focused with my serve and play aggressive, because if you let him play from good positions with his forehand, you are dead, because he plays super-aggressive, hitting so hard.”
“So probably he’s unstoppable from that positions, no? I need to play long, I need to play against his backhand, and then open the court, no?”
Federer, 36, and Nadal, 31, have squared off five times at the French Open, four times at the Australian Open and three times at Wimbledon, but missed out on playing one another here when one of them lost before playing the other in 2008, ’09, ’11 and ’13. Now it happened again in 2017.
Had Andy Murray (hip) withdrawn from the tournament before the draw instead of afterward, Federer would have been moved up to the No. 2 seed and the two could have met in the final.
“I think will be much more special if that can happen in the final but that’s not possible in the final,” Nadal said of playing Federer.
Arguably the two greatest players in the history of the sport, they have won all three of the Grand Slams this year, Federer capturing his 18th and 19th majors at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and Nadal winning his 15th at the French Open.
“I’d love to play Rafa here in New York,” Federer, the five-time US Open champion who last won here in 2008, said before the tournament. “Hopefully it will be a night session.”
“Hopefully that would be a great atmosphere and one again where we play great like at the Australian Open.”
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria