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By Chris Oddo | Sunday September 3, 2017

An inspired Juan Martin del Potro has wedged himself between tennis' two greatest icons again.

The Argentine powered past Roger Federer, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4, effectively cancelling what would have been the first meeting of Federer and Nadal in New York with a performance for the ages that titillated a rowdy Arthur Ashe night session crowd.

More: Previewing and Predicting Thursday's All-American Semifinals

Six times now Federer and Nadal have been one match from meeting at the U.S. Open, and six times unforeseen circumstances have intervened on behalf of the underdog.

Perhaps we should have seen it coming.

Federer had struggled out of the gates in New York and was forced into five-setters in his first two matches. Though he looked better in his last two victories over Feliciano Lopez and Philipp Kohlschreiber, something seemed amiss on Wednesday as Del Potro’s menacing game took a bite out of the usually aggressive Federer, leaving him on his back foot and looking indecisive at times.

“I didn't think I played bad,” Federer said. “You know, towards the end of the breakers, you know, I can do better maybe, sure, but I think the decisions that we both took, me serving, him returning, or whatever it may have been, you know, it just didn't go my way.”

Federer had his chances but he was ultimately done in by his inability to convert four set points in the third-set tiebreaker. After that difficult blow, he dumped an overhead into the net early in the fourth set that led to Del Potro’s decisive break in the fifth game.

“It was unfortunate,” Federer said of his close calls. “You know, I put myself in a good position throughout the breaker, had chances to -- I was always kind of ahead the whole time, and then at the end, you know, I got caught.”

Del Potro sealed his break for a 3-2 lead in the fourth set with a backhand winner and held serve in his final three service games to close out his sixth career victory over Federer.

After the match he embraced Federer warmly then stood on the court with his arms outstretched, soaking up the embrace of the fans who remained to cheer his name. During his post-match interview he looked up high into the rafters and addressed his fans in his native tongue while they continued to shower him with applause.

Del Potro will move on to face Rafael Nadal in Friday’s semifinal. It may not be the one that many pundits and fans were planning on, but the pair have played plenty of entertaining tilts as well. Nadal and Del Potro have met 13 times in total with Nadal winning eight, but some of their matches have been tense and dramatic affairs, most notably the Davis Cup final in 2011, the Indian Wells final in 2013 and last year's Olympic semifinal.

The Argentine defeated Nadal in their lone New York battle at the U.S. Open in 2009, dropping just six games before defeating Federer in a five set final that would mark his one and only Grand Slam title to date.

"He's the No. 1 player of the world, and he's playing so confident this tournament," Del Potro told reporters after the match. "He's a lefty guy, so he has chance to find easily my backhand. So I don't know what's gonna be my strategy for that match. But for sure I will try to make winners with my forehands and don't run too much, because my legs are tired."

History could repeat himself in reverse if Del Potro can maintain his form for another match. He was nearly down and out against Dominic Thiem in the round of 16, but rebounded from illness and being two sets to love down to save two match points and create a miraculous victory.

After defeating Federer tonight it’s clear that Del Potro is a man on a mission. He has defeated Nadal in their last two meetings and if his magic persists, he just might do it again.


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