It’s not the semi-final everyone (apart from one man) had hoped for, but it still has the makings of a blockbuster all the same.
It was supposed to be Rafa against Roger, a 38th career meeting between the two greats of the modern game, but Juan Martin Del Potro tore up the script by beating Federer in four sets in their US Open quarter-final.
Nadal is an overwhelming favourite, 188BET have him at 1.36 to Del Potro’s 3.30, but it’s not as clear cut as it would appear.
In an interview with Eurosport following his win over Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals, Nadal responded to a question about whether he was looking forward to facing Federer or Del Potro.
He said: “I want to play against the opponent who I have got more chances to win, I’m not stupid.”
Nadal’s response was interpreted that he would prefer to face Del Potro than Federer, but you could easily adopt the opposite viewpoint.
Many would call the men in white coats and have you taken away for suggesting that Nadal would prefer to face Federer than Del Potro, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
During Nadal’s golden spell at the top of the game in 2010, he had Federer’s measure on all surfaces – grass, clay, hard, carpet. The Spaniard was untouchable. He is arguably not at that level right now, but there are characteristics in his game of 2017 that match up to the 2010 iteration – notably the serve.
Nadal’s first serve is in superb rhythm and there is greater snap behind his second serve. Those traits are allowing him to win a lot of free points and dominate rallies. That was what helped him have Federer’s measure in 2010 and it could have engineered a repeat in New York on Friday.
We will never know how that semi-final would have played out, as it is Del Potro who stands in Nadal’s way. The Argentine is on the comeback trail from the wrist injury that devastated his career following his US Open win in 2009.
He’s had two tough games against Dominic Thiem and Federer, both mentally and physically, but Nadal is aware of the weapons Del Potro possesses.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Nadal said: “Juan Martin is a top player. It is true when he’s playing well, it’s difficult to stop him. He probably has the fastest forehand on tour.
“If you let him play good positions with his forehand, you are dead.”
It is odd to suggest that a player in Federer with 19 grand slam titles cannot hurt you in the same way as a player in Del Potro with one, but if the Argentine imposes his will on the game – and gets enough balls in front of the baseline – he will be a thorn in the side of Nadal.
Nadal has improved as the fortnight at Flushing Meadows has gone on, and he knows it is imperative that he hits a length that does not allow Del Potro to step inside the baseline and pummel the ball.
If Nadal continues to build his level from his previous two rounds, he should have too many guns for Del Potro – but it is not as clear-cut as it would appear.