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By Chris Oddo | September 7, 2017

And then there were four—and we’re not talking about the Big 4, though we do have one of those as well. It’s men’s semifinal time at the U.S. Open and we’re here to preview the action ahead of Friday’s doubleheader.

Statisfaction:

Nadal will retain the No.1 ranking regardless of his result in Friday’s semifinal with Del Potro.

The Big 4--comprised of Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic--have won 45 of the last 50 major titles.

The Matchups:

[1] Rafael Nadal vs. [24] Juan Martin del Potro
Career H2H: Nadal leads, 8-5

Sure, there’s a palpable disappointment in the air in New York due to the fact that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will not meet yet again in New York. Six times they’ve been one match away from meeting at the U.S. Open and, strangely, something has always intervened to deprive tennis fans of seeing a chapter of the sport’s most famous rivalry play out on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But let’s forget about it for two reasons. One, there’s nothing we can do about it. Que sera, sera. Two, the alternative is a pretty darn mouthwatering matchup between two players that have locked horns in some of the most thrilling encounters that we’ve seen in the last decade. Who could forget the Nadal-Del Potro final at Indian Wells in 2013? Or last year’s Olympic semifinal, that went to Del Potro in a third-set breaker? Or how about Nadal’s victory over Del Potro on the final day of Spain’s Davis Cup final victory over Argentina in 2011? What we’re trying to get at is that, yes, it’s disappointing that Federer and Nadal won’t play again in New York, but don’t get too upset because the alternative might prove to be the more compelling matchup, given the form of the two players who are set to square off.

Speaking of that we know that Del Potro has an affinity for brushing off fatigue when he’s tired thanks to the inspiration he receives from his legions of fans.

But how will he hold up after two physical, dramatic encounters?

The Argentine has thrived on the support he’s getting from his die-hard fans in New York, and he has parlayed his miraculous victory over Dominic Thiem in the round of 16 into an impressive, authoritative takedown of Roger Federer on Wednesday night.

Could Nadal be his next victim? It’s hard to say.


Nadal hasn’t faced a significant test in New York in his first five matches. He has dropped sets against Taro Daniel and Leonardo Mayer, but by in large he has done what has been asked of him and he has improved with each passing round. Maybe his quarterfinal beatdown of wet-behind-the-ears Andrey Rublev was not good preparation for the power game of Juan Martin del Potro, but Nadal is experienced enough, and in good enough form, to be ready for Del Potro.

Best of all, he’ll have energy to burn.

The Spaniard holds the lifetime edge of 8-5 over Del Potro, and he’s a smart tactician (and a LEFTY) who should do a better job of exposing Del Potro’s backhand than Thiem and Federer did. If the conditions are right, and Nadal’s serve and forehand are on point, he should have the chances to open the court and dictate to Del Potro.

That said, Del Potro’s backhand has been up to the task more often than not in New York. Perhaps he’s finally shedding the inhibition about using the shot as an offensive weapon rather than just a neutral ball. He’ll need more of that if he is the keep Nadal at bay in a best-of-five slugfest with so much at stake.

[28] Kevin Anderson vs. [12] Pablo Carreno Busta
Career H2H: Anderson leads, 2-0

The bottom half of the draw was pretty much cratered from the first day of the tournament, thanks to the late withdrawal of Andy Murray, which came after the draw and therefore did not give the tournament’s organizers a chance to reshuffle the seeds and get Roger Federer in the bottom half. Add to that the absences of Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic, and it made for a very diluted—some would say wide open—section.

But let’s end that discussion there and pick it up with the fact that Kevin Anderson and Pablo Carreno Busta are playing the best tennis of their respective careers and they deserve nothing but praise for having worked their way through to their first career major semifinal.

Anderson has been a picture of intensity and when he finally ran into a player that was seeded higher than him in the quarterfinals he was spot-on with his game and he kept No.17-seeded Sam Querrey on his heels for the better part of four sets to avenge his loss to the American in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon. Anderson hasn’t always been considered a clutch player but he answered the bell when his mental mettle was tested against Querrey and he saved a set point in the fourth set to get past the American without any undo drama.




Carreno Busta has been quietly having the best season of his career. He reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and here in New York has plowed his way through a draw that featured four qualifiers and No.29-seeded Diego Schwartzman. That may not sound like much but Carreno Busta showed a lot of veteran’s poise in his last two wins over rising Canadian Denis Shapovalov and then against Schwartzman. It will be interesting to see what Carreno Busta will do to try to defuse Anderson’s lethal power game. He doesn’t tend to prosper against power players with big serves, and he’s 0-2 lifetime against Anderson, including a straight-sets loss this summer at Montreal.

Predictions:

Nadal d. Del Potro in 5
Anderson d. Carreno Busta in 4

 

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