Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
They have played on 37 occasions and in 14 different cities around the world but Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have never faced each other in New York. And if it’s ever going to happen, it won’t be this year after Federer was shocked in the quarter-finals by an inspired Juan Martin Del Potro.
Under a roof closed with rain pouring down outside, it was just like 2009 all over again as Del Potro ripped forehand after forehand past an increasingly despondent Federer, the man he beat to win his only Grand Slam title.
His 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 victory put him into his first Grand Slam semi-final since The Championships 2013 and broke the hearts of thousands of fans who had already bought tickets to what they expected to be the first Federer-Nadal battle.
And yet, the Argentine is still warming hearts across the tennis world. It is less than 18 months since he returned after a third operation on his left wrist, an injury that almost saw him quit the sport. It’s been a long road back but with his backhand strengthening by the week, his forehand still brutal and his serve working nicely, the 28-year-old is back in the business end of a major.
“I did my best game of the tournament tonight,” said Del Potro, who was once again cheered on by chants of “Delpo, Delpo”, as he had been in his win over Dominic Thiem of Austria in the previous round, when he’d looked down and out after two sets, feeling the after-effects of a virus. “I played a very smart game during the whole match. It is so important to me beating him another time in this amazing tournament.”
Federer, who came into the event with doubts about his back after missing Cincinnati, had seemed to be improving by the round but against Del Potro, he seemed determined to beat him by attacking his strength, his forehand. Though he hit plenty of winners – 60 in all – he made numerous uncharacteristic mistakes and never looked entirely comfortable or confident, something that has not been said often in a year that has seen him win singles title at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
Del Potro took advantage to win the first set thanks to one break, only for Federer to level. The Swiss should have pinched the third, after leading the tiebreak 6-4, having recovered from the loss of the first three games. But four set points came and went and Del Potro snatched it to move ahead. Federer continued to fight but Del Potro broke for 3-2 with a stunning backhand and he held his nerve to get over the line.
Federer was hurt, physically and mentally, but reflective and philosophical. “I knew it was going to be a tough one,” he said, alluding to his back. “I had struggled too much throughout the tournament to think too far ahead. In some ways I'm actually happy I made the quarters, so I'm not disappointed, because it's been a good run this year already.
I knew going in that I'm not in a safe place
“It was one of those matches where if I ran into a good guy, I was going to lose, I felt. I don't want to say I was in negative mindset, but I knew going in that I'm not in a safe place. It might have depended too much on my opponent and I don't like that feeling. I had it, you know, throughout the tournament, and I just felt that way every single match I went into.
“I didn't have that feeling at Wimbledon or at the Australian Open, and that's why rightfully so I'm out of this tournament, because I wasn't good enough, in my mind, in my body, and in my game to overcome these three pillars. I'm OK with it, and I tried until the very end. And smashing certain stuff in the net that I normally wouldn't, smashing forehand volleys into the back fence, I mean, that stuff sucked. You know, honestly, it was terrible.”
World No.1 Nadal had fulfilled his part with an utterly dominant 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 defeat of 19-year-old Rublev. The Russian is a man for the future but Nadal made him look like a boy, crushing him from the baseline and cruising into the semi-finals. The two-time US Open singles champion, chasing Grand Slam title No.16, is now the overwhelming favourite but won’t underestimate Del Potro, who beat him for the loss of just six games in the semi-finals in 2009.
if you let him play from good positions with his forehand, you are dead
“I need to be very focused with my serve and play aggressive, because if you let him play from good positions with his forehand, you are dead, because he plays super-aggressive, hitting so hard,” he said.
“Probably he's unstoppable from those positions. I need to play long, I need to play against his backhand, and then open the court.
(But) the most important thing is play at my best level. If I play at my best level, I believe I am going to have my chances against everybody. If I don't play at my best level, the chances will be much less.”
An American woman was already guaranteed to be in the final after the wins for Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens on Tuesday. Now there will definitely be an American champion after Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe joined them in the semi-finals. It’s the first time that’s happened in New York since 1981 and at any slam since 1985.
Keys ended the run of qualifier Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-3, 6-3 while Vandeweghe upset world No.1 Karolina Pliskova 7-6(4), 6-3. The Czech had a set point in the opener but the hard-hitting Vandeweghe pulled away to reach the last four for the first time.
The pair have played twice already, with Keys winning both, but Vandeweghe believes the match is on her racket. “Madison is a player that can take control of the points and of the rallies,” she said. “I think if I allow her to do that, then she's going to be on the winning side of the coin. So I think it's definitely going to depend on me and making sure she's not capable of doing that.”
“I don't want to look like I'm going to be his boyfriend.” Nadal, when asked what he admired most about Federer
Del Potro’s forehand is a thing of beauty but he came up with some big backhands, none more than this one to break the Federer serve in the third set.