NEW YORK, September 8, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Juan Martín del Potro advanced to his second Grand Slam final Friday evening – and first since he won the 2009 U.S. Open. However, it was anything but ordinary for the gentle giant from Tandil, Argentina. After going ahead of World No. 1 and top seed Rafael Nadal, 7-6 (3), 6-2, the defending champion Nadal retired from the semifinal match on Arthur Ashe Stadium due an injury to his right knee.
After the completion of the second set – and after having his right knee taped twice during the match – the Spaniard approached the chair umpire, James Keothavong, and informed him that he couldn’t continue to play. Later, Nadal would say during his post-match interview session that he first felt pain in his right knee at 2-all in the first set.
After Nadal and del Potro shared a brief conversation at the net, then warmly embraced, it was del Potro who made a gesture toward his fallen opponent so the crowd could have an opportunity to applaud Nadal.
Nadal had spent more time on court during the 2018 U.S. Open than any other player – 15 hours and 54 minutes – including his enduring five-set quarterfinal win over Dominic Thiem on Tuesday night that lasted until 2:04 a.m. early Wednesday.
During their two hours and one minute in battle, del Potro hit 29 winners and broke Nadal four times. He was ahead in total points 74-62.
“Of course, it’s not the best way to win a match,” said del Potro, 29, enjoying a career-best No. 3 ranking to go with being seeded No. 3 at this year’s Open. “I love to play against Rafa because he’s the biggest fighter in this sport. I don’t like to see him suffering on the court.”
Del Potro underwent four wrist surgeries and missed 14 Grand Slams following his 2009 U.S. Open success, so he’s familiar with pain and frustration of dark moments and doubt.
“But I’m so happy to be in the final again. It means a lot to me. I didn’t expect to be in another Grand Slam final that’s my favorite tournament, in New York at the U.S. Open. I had my biggest memories playing on this court in 2009. But I was a kid. Now I’m much older,” said del Potro during an on-court interview after advancing.
During his post-match press conference within minutes after he lost, a dejected Nadal said, “I hate to retire, but staying one more set out there playing like this will be too much for me.”
Nadal, 32, confirmed that the problem which led to his retiring was an injury to his right knee. He did not blame the lengthy five-setter against Thiem for contributing to Friday’s injury. Previously, he has suffered patellar tendinitis.
“The pain in the knee is always very similar when I have it,” he said. “This time it was something a little more aggressive because it was in one movement, not progressive.”
Nadal added, “It was very difficult to say goodbye before the match finished. At some point, you have to take a position. It’s so difficult to continue playing. I was having too much pain. It was not a tennis match at the end. One player was playing and the other one is thinking through pain on the other side of the court.”
Nadal was asked how much of his off-court time is consumed with pain management and just keeping his body in shape enough to play five-set matches. He said, “Well, I can’t describe it; it’s just my work, my normal every day routine. I just do my work and just enjoy the moments when I can play with healthy conditions.
“I’m having two great years. Both last year and this year have been fastastic years until this moment. It’s not about losing, it’s about not having a chance to fight for it. I’ve fought all my career. It’s tough this moment, but I’m going to keep going, going to keep working hard to have these opportunities … fighting for titles.”
Friday was del Potro and Nadal’s third straight meeting at a major in 2018, and the fourth in the past five, going back to last year’s U.S. Open semifinals, won by Nadal in four sets.
Following his win over Nadal, del Potro has now beaten the Spaniard six times – all on outdoor hard courts. He has also beaten the reigning No. 1 player on 10 different occasions, more than any other player in the history of the ATP rankings who has not been ranked No. 1.
It’s del Potro versus Djokovic in men’s final
While Nadal’s retirement contributed toward del Potro winning efficiently, his opponent in Sunday afternoon’s final, Novak Djokovic, won with consistency. The No. 6 seed from Serbia continued his solid fortnight in Flushing Meadows by playing solid tennis as exhibited by his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 vicotry over No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan. It advanced Djokovic to his 23rd major final.
Although Djokovic committed more unforced errors (29) than hit winners (16), he held the upper hand through much of the two hour and 22 minute match on Arthur Ashe Stadium. He won 44 points on Nishikori’s serve and caused his opponent to hit 51 unforced errors.
“It feels really good to win and to play with great intensity and focus,” said Djokovic on-court after his victory. “You have to execute your shots against Nishikori. You have to think quickly.”
Djokovic was asked to describe his success in the Grand Slams. He said, “The majors are the biggest events. I’ve been fortunate to really play well when it matters. … Playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium gives me a lot of strength.
“I’m trying to reach certain heights. I don’t see any limits.”
Record 18th major doubles title for Mike Bryan
Mike Bryan, half of the famous Bryan brothers doubles duo, made history on Friday in the U.S. Open men’s doubles final. He won a record 18th Grand Slam doubles title, teaming with fellow American Jack Sock, to easily defeat No. 7 seed Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, 6-3, 6-1, in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Bryan had been tied with Australian Hall of Famer John Newcombe for the most career Grand Slam men’s doubles titles.
“This is not just about me. There are a lot of people behind the scenes working to get this 40-year-old body on the court,” said Bryan, whose twin brother Bob has been recovering from hip surgery. “This has been a magical run. I am going to soak this one in and enjoy it. It was a lot of fun today,” he said during the on-court trophy presentation.
Because of Bob Bryan’s absence for much of this year, with whom he and his brother have won 16 Grand Slam crowns together – including five U.S. Open titles – Mike Bryan has partnered with Sock and they’ve won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this summer. Next, they are expected to play doubles together next week when the United States faces Croatia in a a Davis Cup World Group semifinal tie.
As Sock explained, “When I got the call from Mike right before Wimbledon to play, it was a very quick yes to play with one half of the greatest team of all time.”
In the championship match, the No. 3 seeds Bryan and Sock combined to hit 36 winners with many of them contributed from Sock’s powerful forehand. Three service breaks in the final set helped put away the victory and title for Bryan and Sock. The championship match was decided in 1 hour and 14 minutes.
Among the milestones set by Bryan and Sock:
• First team to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year since Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge in 2003.
• First team to win consecutive Grand Slam crowns since the Bryans swept all four majors, beginning with the 2012 U.S. Open through the 2013 Wimbledon.
• At 40 years and 4 months, Bryan is now the oldest Grand Slam doubles champion in the Open Era, surpassing Leander Paes of India, who was 40 years and 2 months when he won the 2013 U.S. Open.
• Sock is now 4–0 in Grand Slam doubles finals. He also won the 2014 Wimbledon doubles title with Vasek Pospisil of Canada and the 2011 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin of the United States.
What they’re saying about Serena and Osaka
Here’s a sampling of opinion about Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, who will play for the U.S. Open women’s singles title Saturday afternoon:
• During her post-match press conference following her semifinal win Thursday night, Serena Williams was put on the spot by the USTA’s #NetGeneration KidCasters, who asked if a goat is Serena’s favorite animal. She responded: “After today’s win, I would say my favorite animal is either a dog or a tiger. It’s always been that. I love dogs. I love tigers because they fight, they’re tenacious and they’re beautiful and majestic. After tonight, I would say that the word GOAT (as in Greatest Of All Time) means a lot to me. They’ve been using it a lot with me and Roger (Federer) … Rafa and a lot of people. I’m just happy to be a part of the conversation.”
• Martina Navratilova, Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst, on Naomi Osaka’s semifinal win over Madison Keys : “You’ve got to give her credit. She played so well and such poised tennis. She held her nerves so well. She never waivered. … She played such outstanding tennis.”
• David Law, BBC5 Live commentator and co-host of The Tennis Podcast, on Serena Williams: “What was absolute clear from the third game … did Serena Williams adapt after those first two games or did she have this pre-ordained plan to get to the net? I’ve never seen Serena Williams at the net as much as she was tonight. She went there 24 times and won 20 points. … She was so good at it.”