That was Juan Martin del Potro, who
made his first Grand Slam final, handing Nadal a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 loss
Sunday at the U.S. Open — the worst loss Rafa has suffered in a major
"I think this is the best moment of my life," del Potro said.
Nadal was dealing with a strained
abdominal muscle, and after the match he finally admitted the obvious —
that it was bothering him.
The six-time Grand Slam tournament
champion also gave plenty of credit to del Potro, who deserved every
bit of it after sapping all the life, and hope, out of a player whose
relentlessness is one of his biggest attributes.
"I'm going to repeat: He played much better than me, and for that reason he beat me," Nadal said.
The sixth-seeded Argentine — the
first from that country to make a U.S. Open final since Guillermo Vilas
in 1977 — kept No. 3 Nadal pinned behind the baseline with a deep, flat
forehand and a first serve he mixed at between speeds from the 90s to
In the first set, Nadal put on his
usual show, battling for every point, never giving in, even though it
was clear he was being overpowered and playing at less than 100
percent. The first four games crept along, at 27 minutes.
But he couldn't convert any of the
five break points he had against del Potro's huge serve over the first
12 games, couldn't do much to neutralize an opponent who hit 33
winners, often running around the ball to pound forehands down the
line. And there was no waiting out this storm, no hoping del Potro
might weaken, the way he did earlier this year at the French, when he
was in his first Grand Slam semifinal, leading Roger Federer 2 sets to
Federer came back in that one and
might await again. In the final, pushed to Monday because of rain over
the weekend, del Potro will play either the five-time defending
champion or Novak Djokovic. Del Potro's record against the two: a
But, he says, he's been seeing the ball great this week.
"Maybe my green eyes. I don't know,"
he said. "It's very tough playing against Rafa or Roger. But today I
play unbelievable, and that was the key."
The result prevented the eighth
Federer-Nadal final in a Grand Slam and first at the U.S. Open, and
left Rafa still in need of a win at Flushing Meadows for the career
"I'm sorry," del Potro told the
crowd in his on-court interview. "But tomorrow, I'll fight until the
final point for you, for everyone, to show good tennis."
Del Potro's first major final
extends a stretch of improving tennis that began last year when he
became the first player to win his first four titles in four straight
tournaments. He saw his ranking jump from 65 to 13 and likely up to No.
5 after this tournament.
He had two days off since his
quarterfinal win over Marin Cilic and could be seen often, walking the
halls at Arthur Ashe Stadium, waiting out two days of rain delays that
pushed the men's final back for the second straight year.
Nadal, meanwhile, had to finish his
postponed quarterfinal Saturday afternoon, and though that was a
stress-free dispatching of Fernando Gonzalez that took 34 minutes to
complete, there was no doubting who was in better physical condition
for this match.
Eliminated from the tournament,
Nadal finally documented the problems he's had with his abdominal
muscles, dating to a tournament in Montreal in August. The pain took a
toll in many ways, most notably on Sunday when Nadal was serving from
the deuce court, against the wind.
"I only can serve in the middle, because if I serve it outside, the abdominal kill me, no?" he said.
Nadal, who missed Wimbledon while
resting his hurting knees, said he did not consider this latest injury
to be major. Still, he will take some time off, including skipping
Spain's Davis Cup match this month.
Del Potro, meanwhile, has a date
Monday to try to bring the title back to Argentina for the first time
since Vilas did it in 1977.
The best win of his career?
"I think so," del Potro said. "It
was so focused every moment because Rafa's a great player. He can run
for 5, 6 hours. I'm not very strong but I do my best, and I'm in the
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