Rafael Nadal finally looked human.
After spending almost 16 hours on court leading up to his semifinal match, Nadal looked gassed against Juan Martin Del Porto, ultimately retiring while down two sets.
He also retired from his quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open earlier this year, but it was the first retirement at Flushing Meadows in Nadal’s career.
Del Potro is no stranger to injury.
After winning the U.S. Open in 2009, the Argentine battled numerous wrist injuries that kept him off the tour for months and saw his ranking drop, ending 2015 ranked 580 in the world.
On Friday though, he was the fresher of the two. Del Potro spent four fewer hours on the court than Nadal – and pushed the Spaniard early on.
Using his fresher legs and booming serve, he took the first-set tie break before storming storm out to a 4-1 lead in the second set. Nadal, who had beaten Del Potro en route to the title a year ago, struggled mightily with his movement as he camp sat quietly watching.
The World No. 1 had his knee taped in the first set before ripping it off in frustration. The trainer returned at the beginning of the second to re-tape it and then returned at the end of the second set, before Nadal decided he could not continue on.
Midway through the second set, Nadal argued a line call with the chair umpire before indicating that he would retire from the match eventually. He played just three more games to finish the second set.
Nadal embraced Del Potro at the net after the match, before heading to the locker room.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 7, 2018
In the post game press conference, Nadal said his knee began aching earlier in the tournament in the second or third match before improving, but that he felt it aching again at 2-2 in the first set.
“It’s not about losing,” Nadal said about retiring and looking back at his performance in the grand slams. “It’s about not having the chance to fight for it.”
Del Potro, who considered retirement in 2016, will now move on to the men’s championship on Sunday where he’ll play for his second U.S. Open title. He beat Nadal in the semifinals nine years ago and then came from two sets to one down to beat Federer in the finals and win his maiden slam.
The Argentine – with his childhood friends from Tandil in the crowds and the crowd chanting “Olé, Olé, Olé”- will play either Kei Nishikori or Novak Djokovic for the title.
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