Juan Martin del Potro returned to the US Open final nine years after his only major victory to date after Rafael Nadal retired with a knee injury in their semifinal.
Del Potro, the No.3 seed, led 7-6(3) 6-2 when defending champion Nadal called it a day at Flushing Meadows.
The Spaniard had twice needed treatment on his knee earlier in the match and was clearly struggling with his movement, even telling umpire James Keothavong midway through the second set, “I’m going to retire.”
Nadal played out the remainder of the set but was in no shape to launch a fightback from two sets down, and he shared a conversation with the Argentine on court after making it clear he could not continue.
“Of course it’s not the best way to win a match,” said Del Potro.
“I love to play against Rafa because he’s the biggest fighter in this sport and I don’t like to see him suffering like he did on court today, so I’m sad for him.”
Del Potro has now beaten the reigning No. 1 player on 10 occasions, more than any other man in the history of the ATP rankings who has not been ranked No. 1. He has now beaten Nadal six times: all on outdoor hard courts
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 7, 2018
Nadal later confirmed: “I felt it and I said to my box I felt something on the knee. After that I was trying to see if in some moment it would improve in the match, but it was not today.”
Del Potro has dropped just one set on his way through the draw and looked likely to challenge world No.1 Nadal whatever the Spaniard’s level of fitness.
“The key of the match was the first set,” said Del Potro.
“We both played good tennis, it was a really tough one. I did well in the tiebreak and then I started to play better. I’m so happy to be in the finals again.”
The Argentine returns to a major final for the first time since he beat Nadal and then Roger Federer to win the title in New York in 2009.
He will face Novak Djokovic or Kei Nishikori in Sunday’s final.
“I had my biggest memories playing on this court in 2009 when I beat Rafa and Roger but I was a kid, and now I’m much older and I would like to enjoy one more day,” said Del Potro.
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