By Ros Satar

  • Rafael Nadal [1] v Juan Martin Del Potro [3]
  • Novak Djokovic [6] v Kei Nishikori [19]
NEW YORK, USA – A battle of the three champions and a finalist paves the way for a string finish for the US Open Men’s Singles semi-finals.

 

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Rafael Nadal [1] v Juan Martin Del Potro [3] | H2H: Nadal leads 11-5

Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-final of Roland Garros, 2018

Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-final of Roland Garros, 2018 | ( CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

It is a testament to the big game these players bring that their last four meetings have at significant points of some of the biggest tournaments. In 2016 Juan Martin Del Potro booked a spot in the Rio Olympics final, at the expense of Rafael Nadal. Since then the traffic has been decidedly Spanish.

Meeting in the semi-finals of the US Open last year, the French Open this year, and then the Wimbledon quarter-finals, is it time for Del Potro to snap this three-match losing streak? Coming into the quarter-final, Del Potro had played pretty solidly with three-setters all the way before coming from a set down to beat John Isner.

Nadal has had a slightly bigger battle along the way, taken to four sets and coming from a set down against Karen Khachanov before finally outlasting Dominic Thiem on a late-finishing five-setter, so time on court in these sapping conditions may yet prove to be a factor.

Del Potro dropped his first set of the tournament in his quarter-final, and possibly emerges as a slight favourite for this latest encounter at the business end of a Slam. With the prospect of free points on the end of a powerful serve, and deep offensive baseline play, but last year, Nadal’s strategy of targeting the adjusted backhand started to tell. Even though it has improved for the tall Argentinian, it is the shot you could guarantee will be the first to suffer – three Slam defeats in a row demonstrates that.

One thing is sure, Nadal will battle until the last point, and this does have five sets written all over it. This prediction might be heart more than head and stats, but with Del Potro being a little fresher, it might just be his day.

Prediction: Del Potro in five sets.

 

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Novak Djokovic [6] v Kei Nishikori [19] | H2H: Djokovic leads 14-2

Novak Djokovic after winning the Western & Southern Open, ATP Cincinnati 2018

Novak Djokovic after winning the Western & Southern Open, ATP Cincinnati 2018 | (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The last time Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori met at the US Open, it had looked like a foregone conclusion – Nishikori had already come through two five setters on top of an injury to his toe that had hampered his build up. Yet he managed to up-end Djokovic in four sets but looked spent in the final.

Talking of spent, Djokovic has struggled a lot with the conditions this fortnight. His first two matches took him to four sets, before he settled into more straightforward straight setters, but don’t let those fool you – he has still been made to work for his spot.

What Nishikori might lack in terms of raw power, he more than makes up for in terms of his speed and footwork around the court, and his accuracy and consistency undid former champion Marin Cilic in the quarter-final.

Djokovic can match Nishikori for movement, precision, aggression from the baseline – all of the things that show why his head to head over the Japanese player is so one-sided. The fact that Nishikori last beat Djokovic in the US Open semi-final four years ago speaks volumes.

Djokovic seems to have come to terms with winning by all means necessarily and not necessarily perfectly and following on from what is bound to be a long prior semi-final – maybe finally the conditions will be kind to him.

Prediction: Djokovic in four sets.

The US Open Men’s Singles semi-finals are scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium, not before 4pm (9pm BST).

 

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