Del Potro, Djokovic in US Open final as Nadal quits with knee injury

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NEW YORK, Sept 8, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Juan Martin del Potro set up a US Open
final clash against Novak Djokovic on Friday after defending champion and
world number one Rafael Nadal quit his last-four clash against the giant
Argentine with a knee injury.

Third seed Del Potro, the champion in 2009, was 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 ahead when
Nadal retired.

Del Potro will now face Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 winner, who reached
his eighth final at the tournament and 23rd of his Grand Slam career with a
6-3, 6-4, 6-2 stroll past Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

Djokovic boasts a 14-4 lead over Del Potro in a 10-year rivalry, including
two wins without dropping a set at the US Open in 2007 and 2012.

“We have never met in a Grand Slam final. I have tremendous respect for
him as a person and a player. He’s a great guy,” said Djokovic who missed the
2017 tournament through injury.

“He’s had lots of injury problems in the past but he’s a big-match
player.”

Nadal was devastated by having to pull out although he believes he hasn’t
suffered any long term damage.

“I hate to retire,” said Nadal, a player plagued by a series of knee
injuries throughout his career.

He also retired trailing in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarter-
final against Marin Cilic in January.

“It’s not a tennis match when one is playing and the other is at the side
of the court.”

Nadal, bidding for a fourth title in New York and 18th major, had spent
the best part of 16 hours getting to the semi-finals.

That included almost five hours to defeat Dominic Thiem in an epic
quarter-final which stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The effort took its toll, with the Spaniard twice needing to have his
right knee bandaged before calling it a day after the conclusion of the
second set.

“Well of course it’s not the best way to win a match. I love to play
against Rafa because he’s the biggest fighter in this sport and I don’t like
to see him suffering,” said 29-year-old Del Potro who will be playing in his
second Slam final.

– ‘Sad for Rafa’ –

“I am sad for him but I’m also happy to do my best.”

Nadal’s challenge looked doomed even as early as the first set, as he was
feeling the injury after just four games, he admitted.

He needed his right knee strapped after the seventh game before gallantly
fighting off two set points in the 10th game, breaking Del Potro who was
serving for the set.

But the Argentine swept through the tiebreaker, wrapping up the opener
after 69 minutes of impressive shot-making.

The Spaniard called a medical timeout after three games of the second set
to have the right knee rebandaged.

Del Potro sensed blood and broke for 3-1 as Nadal struggled for movement.

He broke again for 5-2 on his way to a two-set lead and eventual victory.

“It means a lot to be back in the final,” added Del Potro after his sixth
win over Nadal, all on hard court.

“I didn’t expect to get to another Grand Slam final in my favourite
tournament.

“I had my biggest memories on this court in 2009 when I beat Rafa and
Roger (Federer, in the final). I was a kid then; now I am much older.”

Wimbledon champion Djokovic, playing in his 11th US Open semi-final,
claimed a 15th win in 17 clashes against Nishikori.

It was plain sailing for the 31-year-old Serb who is chasing a 14th Slam
title to take him level with Pete Sampras on the all-time list.

He broke serve four times while an under-par Nishikori saved 13 of the 17
break points he faced and committed 51 unforced errors.

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