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US Open - Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin del Potro preview: Nadal and del Potro battle for place US Open final

Rafael Nadal (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal takes on Juan Martin del Potro tonight for a place in the final of the 2017 US Open.

It is a rematch of their 2009 semi-final, when del Potro absolutely crushed Nadal on his way to the title. The Argentine has again hit ominous form, and brings plenty of confidence and momentum into Friday’s contest following impressive victories over Dominic Thiem and five-time champion, Roger Federer in the previous rounds.

Nadal, on his part, isn’t lacking confidence. Following a slow start to his US Open campaign, the 15-time Grand Slam champion has picked up the pace in the last couple of rounds, dismissing Alexandr Dolgopolov and Andrey Rublev in straight sets. However, del Potro in this form is a massive step up in quality from anyone Nadal has faced at Flushing Meadows this year- the Spaniard will have to be at the very top of his game to cut down the giant Argentine.

"Juan Martin is a top player, no? Is true that when he's playing well, it's difficult to stop him". Nadal said.

"Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the tour... I have to play my best tennis. 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".

Of course, a Roger Federer- Rafael Nadal reunion was the dream semi-final, but if you were to pick anyone else to gatecrash the party, the popular and explosive del Potro would not be too far off the top of that list. He has got the personality, he has certainly got the game. This will be a very watchable semi-final.

Del Potro strolled through the opening three rounds without much worries, but he had to dig very deep to survive an epic fourth round battle against Dominic Thiem. He was on the brink of quitting the contest when, troubled by a virus, he dropped the opening two sets tamely, but inspired by a vociferous Argentinean support, and a quick visit by the doctor, the 28-year-old launched an unbelievable fightback. He showed nerves of steel to save two match points with consecutive aces in the fourth set, before breaking late in the fifth to complete a memorable comeback- his first from a two-set deficit in a Grand Slam match.

Buoyed by that excellent win, a confident del Potro took to Arthur Ashe Stadium for his quarter final against Roger Federer in a repeat of their 2009 final. The match went with serve until the eleventh game of the first set, when del Potro produced a beautiful running forehand pass to grab the first break of the night. The former champion then held to take the opening set. Federer responded to level at one-set all, but the match was ultimately turned in the third set tie break, when del Potro fended off four set points before converting his only opportunity to eke out a two-sets-to-one lead.

A backhand return winner gave del Potro the break in the fifth game of the fourth set, and he didn’t look back after that, sealing the 7-5 3-6 7-6 6-4 victory with a forehand winner after two hours and 55 minutes.

It has been a difficult season for del Potro, who is into just his second semi-final of the year, his only other last four appearance being at Delray Beach in his first tournament of the year. He had delayed his start to the season following his exertions in the final months of 2016 when he reached the Olympics final, claimed a title in Stockholm and inspired Argentina to a first Davis Cup success. Partly responsible for del Potro’s poor results in the opening half of the season were difficult draws- five of his first seven losses were against Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Roger Federer. His form leading up to the US Open wasn’t great, as he lost early in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati to Kei Nishikori, Denis Shapovalov and Grigor Dimitrov respectively, but he has rediscovered his form in New York- and when he is feeling it, he is almost impossible to play!

Rafael Nadal will have to figure out a way to stop the marauding Argentine when they meet on Arthur Ashe on Friday. Nadal himself has hit great form in the last couple of rounds, but he hasn’t faced the sort of consistent firepower he will be up against on Friday. After stuttering past Dusan Lajovic, Taro Daniel and Leonardo Mayer, the Spaniard powered past Dolgopolov in the fourth round, before running through 19-year-old Russian, Andrey Rublev in the quarter finals. Rublev has a very heavy forehand, but it is not as powerful, certainly nowhere near as consistent as del Potro’s. The Russian was also guilty of donating double faults at inopportune moments. While Rublev looked consumed by the stage (he will learn from it), del Potro is made for a stage like this, and he will be rearing to go out there and once again flex his muscles against the number one ranked player in the world.

Nadal is looking to reach his third Grand Slam final of the season, following his efforts in Australia and Roland Garros. A solid hard court season earlier in the year yielded runner-up finishes at the Australian Open, Acapulco and Miami, while an impeccable clay court season produced tenth titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros. Nadal’s form dipped after his French Open triumph, losing to Gilles Muller at Wimbledon, Denis Shapovalov in Montreal, and to Nick Kyrgios in an abject quarter final performance in Cincinnati. That prompted questions about Nadal’s credentials for the US Open. His response has not been emphatic, but it has been good enough to yield a semi-final, and more importantly, he is improving with every round.

Nadal will take on del Potro for the fourteenth time on Friday, with the Spaniard enjoying an 8-5 advantage in the previous 13 meetings. However, del Potro leads 5-4 on hard courts, and has won the last two meetings in Shanghai in 2013, and the Rio Olympics just last year. Del Potro’s fitness will be a concern, following two difficult matches, with the Argentine admitting after his victory over Federer that he is not quite at his best physically.

"Well, I'm glad for him (Nadal), because he deserve to be the No. 1 in the world. Personally, I like to play against him when I'm in good conditions. But it's not the case at this moment, so I will see what happen".

Before Nadal gets dragged into a false sense of security (he is too savvy for that to happen anyway), he must remember del Potro’s match against Thiem. The Argentine looked down and out for two sets, before undergoing a dramatic transformation in the final three. Del Potro will not be 100%, for sure, but with a Grand Slam final on the line, and a very vocal crowd to please, I’m pretty certain he will give it absolutely everything on Friday.

Nadal’s brief will be to stick to his routine of attacking the right hander’s backhand, and make the contest as physical as possible. He will have to be careful while going to the del Potro backhand though, because the Argentine is getting more confident on that wing, and is hitting through the stroke a lot more, rather than just slicing it. He will know the template against Nadal- hit it hard into his forehand, and you will most likely take control of the point.

After overcoming severe adversity against Thiem and a less challenging but difficult test against Federer, del Potro is battle-hardened- compared to Nadal who has had the luxury of an under par Dolgopolov and a stage-struck Rublev. The Argentine must feel like there is nothing he cannot do at the moment. Backed by his usual sizeable Argentine contingent, he will come out ripping those forehands on Friday. Nadal will have to keep those crosscourt forehands heavy and deep, else he will be watching a barrage of del Potro forehands fly past him tomorrow. My gut feeling is that del Potro will hit enough of those to barge into another US Open final.

Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin del Potro is live from 5:30pm local time/ 10:30pm BST

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US Open - Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin del Potro preview: Nadal and del Potro battle for place US Open final

Rafael Nadal takes on Juan Martin del Potro tonight for a place in the final of the 2017 US Open.

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