Defending champ Nadal retires against del Potro in US Open semifinals, ending his chances at an 18th major title | Zagsblog
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Sunday / July 14.
  • Defending champ Nadal retires against del Potro in US Open semifinals, ending his chances at an 18th major title

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    NEW YORK — Hobbling and compromised because of what he called “aggressive” tendonitis in his right knee, Rafael Nadal did something he rarely does on a tennis court.

    The defending champ and world No. 1 threw in the towel and retired in the US Open semifinals, down 7-6(3), 6-2 to No. 3 Juan Martin del Potro on Friday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

    Del Potro, the 2009 champ here when he beat Nadal in the semifinals and then Roger Federer in the final, will try to win his second career Grand Slam title on Sunday against No. 6 Novak Djokovic or No. 21 Kei Nishikori.

    Nadal, 32, will remain at 17 major titles for his career, three shy of Federer’s all-time men’s mark of 20. Djokovic, meantime, can tie Pete Sampras’ 14 if he wins two more matches, and close to within three of Nadal. Sampras won his final major title at the Open in 2002.

    Nadal had to play several brutal, physical matches to get to the semifinals and the wear and tear caught up with him. In his three matches leading up to the semifinals, Nadal was on court for 12 hours, 31 minutes, including a 4-hour, 49-minute five-set quarterfinal win over Dominic Thiem that ended at about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

    Nadal said he first felt the knee ailment during the first set against del Potro and called for the trainer once in the first set, and then again in the second. By the end of the second set, he was not able to track down balls the way he usually does, and was heavily compromised, a shadow of the fighter everyone has come to know and respect on the court.

    After getting broken to drop the second set, he approached del Potro and the two men embraced as Nadal broke the news. As Nadal walked off the court, the crowd cheered.

    “Yeah, I waited as much as I can,” Nadal said. “You could imagine very difficult for me to say good-bye before the match finish. But at some point you have to take a decision. It was so difficult for me to keep playing at the same time that way, having too much pain.

    “That was not a tennis match at the end, no? It was just one player playing, the other one staying on the other side of the court. I hate to retired, but stay one more set out there playing like this will be too much for me.”

    Though he has had injury issues in the past, Nadal appeared to be in fine form coming into the tournament. He won the hardcourt warmup in Toronto and then pulled out of Cincinnati to rest leading up to the Open.

    Asked if there might be any structural damage in his knee, Nadal was defiant.

    “No,” he said. “If I have more things, will be tough. So no, no. I know what I have. Similar thing than always. Just about do treatment. Is not an injury that tells you three weeks off and you are back. Is not an injury that tells you six months off, you are back. Is maybe an injury that in one week you feel better, is an injury that maybe in six months you don’t feel better.”

    “I know what is going on with the knee. But the good thing is I know how I have to work to be better as soon as possible because we have a lot of experience on that. I am sure will not be the six months off.”

    Del Potro, meantime, looked impressive in winning the first set in a tiebreak after failing to close the first set out on his serve at 5-4.

    With his massive serve and powerful flat forehand that he smacks like a ping pong stroke, he has the tools to win another Grand Slam title. He and Nadal are friendly, though, and he said he felt bad for how the match ended.

    “It’s not the best way to win a match,” del Potro said on court. “I want to play against Rafa because he’s the biggest fighter. I’m sorry for him.”

    Now he will have almost 48 hours to rest after playing a semifinal that didn’t tax him and last just 2 hours, 1 minute.

    “I’m so happy to be in the final again,” del Potro said. “Basically my favorite tournament is New York. I have my biggest memories playing on the court in 2009 when I beat Rafa and Roger but I was a kid. Now I’m much older.”

    After that 2009 title, tennis experts predicted del Potro could win multiple majors, but he still hasn’t won a second after undergoing four wrist surguries and dropping to No. 581 in the world. Now he is back to No. 3 and playing some of the best tennis of his life.

    “He’s a player that went through lot of issues during his career, like me too,” Nadal said. “I know how tough is this thing. I know how much frustration can be when you can’t do the thing that you want to do. He knows very well.”

    Nadal and Federer are both now out of the tournament, but  remain locked in a historical chase for GOAT status and the most major wins of all time.

    There have always been concerns that Nadal’s physical style of play would short-circuit his career and bring it to an end sooner than later. He admitted as much while trying to keep a stiff upper lip.

    “All my career everybody say that because of my style, I will have a short career,” Nadal said. “I still here. I still here because I love what I am doing. I still have the passion for the game. I going to keep fighting and working hard to keep enjoying this tour and keep having chances to compete at the highest level. So that’s all.”

    For now, he remains three majors shy of Federer and time will tell how many more his body allows him to compete for.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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