Previewing US Open semifinal battle between Nadal and Del Potro

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WATCH—Reaction to Rafael Nadal's win over Dominic Thiem at US Open: 

Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro will clash for the 17th time in a blockbuster US Open semifinal on Friday, their 17th career meeting—and fourth in the last five Grand Slams.

It’s been a tough road to the semifinals for the first-seeded Nadal, though. He’s actually played the two longest matches of the tournament, beating 27th-seeded Karen Khachanov in 4:23 in the third round, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3), and then ninth-seeded Dominic Thiem in 4:49 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), in what was arguably the match of the tournament.

The Spaniard has spent a grand total of 15:54 on court this fortnight—three hours and 38 minutes longer than the third-seeded del Potro, who’s only dropped one set to get here (against John Isner).

But Nadal sounded optimistic that two days off between the quarters and semis will help him recover.

“It’s been physically demanding because the conditions have been tough out there, too. Not crazy, but tough,” he said after his marathon win over Thiem. “But I’m happy to be in the semifinals again. And it’s good to have two days off now. It’ll probably give me the chance to be 100% in the semifinals.”

And if he’s at his best, Nadal will be hard to beat for del Potro. Nadal leads the overall head-to-head, 11-5, and he’s actually beaten the Argentine the last three times they’ve played, in the semifinals of last year’s US Open (4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2), the semifinals of this year’s French Open (6-4, 6-1, 6-2) and in a four-hour-and-48-minute thriller in the quarters of Wimbledon this year too (7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4).

Del Potro is an even 5-5 against Nadal on hard courts, though, and has nine career wins over No. 1s.

“It could be another big battle as the Wimbledon match was,” del Potro said about the match. “Of course, I always like to play the No. 1 of the world, doesn’t matter the tournament or the conditions or the weather. I just have the chance to play the greatest on this sport, and it’s amazing for me.”

“He’s a great player on grass. Well, he’s a great player everywhere,” Nadal said of del Potro. “But the challenge of playing him on hard is even higher for me personally than playing against him on clay.

“It will be a big challenge. We know each other very well. I know he’s playing well. I know that I will have to play at my highest level to keep having chances of success. I’ll try to make that happen.”

Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, is trying to reach his second Grand Slam final, while Nadal, a champion here in 2010, 2013 and 2017, is a win away from a milestone 25th Grand Slam final.

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