By Ann Liguori
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NEW YORK (WFAN) — The much-anticipated US Open semifinal between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is a no-go. Juan Martin del Potro put a stop to it.
The 28-year-old Argentinian, always full of heart and emotion, ousted Federer in four sets, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (8) 6-4, on Wednesday night.
It marked the second time del Potro prevented Federer and Nadal from playing each other at the US Open. Del Potro beat Nadal in the 2009 semifinal and went on to beat Federer to win his only Grand Slam title.
Del Potro was simply better than Federer on Wednesday, as evidenced by his superior serving, movement, and ability to win key points.
The 36-year-old Federer seemed a step slower than usual. Whether it was a continuing back issue or fatigue or a combination of both, the No. 3 seed did not have the goods. In fact, Federer uncharacteristically missed makeable shots and hit several wild shots.
Federer came in with an ailing back after tweaking it at a tournament last month. And there were signs all week that he was not himself. In fact, in my column on Wednesday, the headline read, “Federer Faces Big Obstacles to Semi Showdown with Nadal.”
“I knew going in that I wasn’t in a safe place,” Federer admitted after the loss. “I didn’t have that same feeling I had at Wimbledon or at the Australian. I wasn’t good enough in my mind and in my body.”
Federer won his 18th and 19th Grand Slam titles earlier this year at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, respectively, the latter his record eighth overall at the All England Cub. He also became the second-oldest Grand Slam champion in the Open Era behind Ken Rosewall.
The best I thought Federer looked all week was against Feliciano Lopez, whom he beat in straight sets after being extended to five sets in each of the first two rounds. He had that bounce in his step that had been missing when Frances Tiafoe and then Mikhail Youzhny took him the distance.
After Federer won the first two sets against Phillipp Kohlschreiber, he left the court on a medical timeout and later said he needed to have his lower back and bottom massaged.
When del Potro rallied back to win a five-set thriller against sixth-seed Dominic Thiem in the third round, despite having a virus the lasted 48 hours, I figured he had more left in the tank and in his heart to beat Federer, who I could tell wasn’t 100 percent physically.
Del Potro overcame four wrist injuries that kept him out of the game most of 2014 and 2015. His comeback has been nothing short of remarkable. His serve, forehand, and heart have remained his biggest weapons. Each win to him now seems to be a gift from the heavens as he looks up in the sky after his victories and blows a kiss.
So it will be del Potro against top-seeded Nadal in one semifinal on Friday. Nadal put on a clinic against Andrey Rublev, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, earlier Wednesday. The other semifinal will be contested between No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and No. 28 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
Del Potro verse Nadal may not be the semifinal everyone was hoping for, but it should be a battle of big hitters with big hearts.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori