By Ros Satar, in Paris

  • Rafael Nadal [1] v Juan Martin Del Potro [5]
  • H2H: Nadal leads 9-5

PARIS, FRANCE – It is nine years since Juan Martin Del Potro reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros, and he faces the toughest test of all in Rafael Nadal.

 

Rafael Nadal [1] v Juan Martin Del Potro [5] | H2H: Nadal leads 9-5

There will be a lot of emotions coursing around, at least on one side of the net as Juan Martin Del Potro faces World No. 1 and 10-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal in a bid to reach a second Grand Slam final of his career.

That in itself would be achievement enough for many, but when you look at the raft of injuries that Del Potro has had to face, surgeries on both his wrists since 2010 and then coming into this tournament uncertain of whether he would be able to play because of a groin injury, it underlines what a landmark this is.

Certainly, the emotions were very much on show for him, in tears and barely able to get through his on-court interview, but there will be little time to allow the enormity of the task he faces to overwhelm him.

Del Potro said: “Everybody knows that I was close to quit this sport two years ago, but then I, for one reason, I never give up. And I have been trying and trying every day to fix my problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now I’m having a great present, looking forward for the future.

“And of course I didn’t expect to be in the top five again, to reach semi-finals at the big tournament after all my injuries, you know. But now it’s time to talk about my present in a good way. I think all the tougher moments of my life are completely in the past, and I’m enjoying a lot this present.”

Rafael Nadal in the quarter-final of Roland Garros, 2018

Rafael Nadal in the quarter-final of Roland Garros, 2018 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

He has a game to beat Nadal but their head to head of course shows up the fact that he has never got a win over Nadal on the dirt. The Spaniard has not been without an admittedly single fragility this tournament, losing his first set in the quarter-final to Diego Schwartzman, whose aggressive game play in the first set, in heavy claggy day in Paris had Nadal looking skittish and nervous.

Yet the Paris rain would serve to scupper Schwarzman, and a couple of breaks (one proving terminal for the day’s play) meant that Nadal had the chance to regroup and come out on a far dryer day and dominate proceedings, as he always does.

Del Potro’s serve and forehand combo is one of the best in the game, and is consistently solid off both wings, even allowing for the necessary adjustments he has had to make especially to his backhand since having the wrist surgeries, but he has a deftness of touch if he opts for a one-handed backhand slice.

The tenaciousness of Nadal’s game will see him want to move the Tower of Tandil around the court if he cannot dominate from the back of the court with his usual aggressive baseline game. Nadal might not have as powerful serve as Del Potro but what he goes for is consistency and placement, so Del Potro will have to look at his return game to try and dominate.

Nadal said, of the match-up: “Del Potro has achieved great victories this year. He has fantastic potential. They are both good servers, aggressive game from the end of the court, the baseline. And I have to play aggressively. If I play defensively and I don’t take intensity, I will be lost.”

While we might bemoan the fact that there is an air of inevitability that Nadal will indeed be the one to be nibbling the corner of the trophy on Sunday, the fact remains that Del Potro could provide him with at least a challenge. He certainly has it within him to take a set off Nadal, maybe even take him the distance.

Prediction: Nadal in five sets.

 

 

Main Image: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Image

Nadal and Del Potro are scheduled on Court Philippe Chatrier, not before 3:30pm (2:30pm BST).

 

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