Juan Martin del Potro relishing 'special' second chance in US Open final

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Whether he beats Novak Djokovic on Sunday to claim his second grand slam title or not, Juan Martin del Potro will still consider himself a winner.

When he won his first title here nine years ago as a 20-year-old, overpowering first Rafael Nadal and then Roger Federer, Del Potro seemed poised to be a major thorn in the side of the big four.

But six months later he was off the tour after undergoing surgery on his right wrist and, just when he was finally back to his best, he began to feel pain in his left wrist.

Del Potro lost nearly two years, undergoing three operations and fearing his career was finished.

The boot was on the other foot on Saturday when he benefited from another player’s injury, Nadal retiring with knee problems at two sets down. Del Potro was sympathetic, but he could not hide a beaming smile.

“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another grand slam final here, which is my favourite tournament,” said the 29-year-old. “So it will be special to me. A big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get to this moment.

“It will be a difficult match, of course. But I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I’ve been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyway.”

The lowest point came after two wrist operations when he was still unable to play and had to decide whether to go under the knife for a third time.

The friends who have come to New York from his home town of Tandil and been so vocal in their support played an important role in keeping Del Potro believing that things would one day be better.

He said: “The worst moment was in 2015 when I was close to quitting this sport because I couldn’t find a way to fix my wrist problems. I was suffering a lot. I got depressed for a couple of months also. I didn’t get the chance to feel better with myself, to do this again. That was the bad moment for me.

“But I think that is completely in the past, and now I’m having a good present, looking forward for the future. I didn’t expect to get these kinds of emotions playing tennis again. Reaching finals, winning titles, having my highest ranking ever in this moment. Everything is almost perfect.”

The perfect ending, of course, would be victory over Djokovic, a player he has beaten only four times in 18 meetings, on Sunday.

“It will be a difficult match because we are close friends,” said the Argentinian. “Novak has won Wimbledon already. He’s playing so good. He will be the favourite to win on Sunday.

“But I don’t know. When I played Roger nine years ago, he was the favourite to win as well. I will try to make the surprise again.”

After winning Wimbledon, Djokovic has shown he is indisputably back to his best following elbow surgery and revelled in the cooler conditions in a dominant semi-final victory over Kei Nishikori.

He has the chance to equal Pete Sampras’ tally of 14 slam titles but is wary of Del Potro despite his excellent record against the Argentinian.

Djokovic said: “I personally like him very much, not just as a player but as a person. He’s a dear friend, someone that I respect a lot. We all felt for his struggles with injuries.

“But he was always a top-five player in the eyes, I think, of everyone. It was just a matter of time. He’s a big-time player. He’s a big-match player. He’s a grand slam winner. He’s playing the tennis of his life.”

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Daily Digest: Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro to meet in US Open Final

Alex Broun 8/09/2018
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Good morning!

The Sport360 team are here bringing you our top stories on Saturday.

As ever, get in touch with us throughout the day via Twitter and Facebook.

TOP STORY

Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic set up a US Open final clash as Rafael Nadal was left to curse the return of the knee problems that have dogged his career.

Looking to retain the title he won last year and cap another hugely successful season, Nadal must instead focus on rehabilitation after pulling the plug two sets into his semi-final against Del Potro.

The Spaniard had played down concerns over his right knee after having it taped during a long third-round match against Karen Khachanov and had survived a brutally physical encounter with Dominic Thiem in the last eight.

To read more from the US Open CLICK HERE.

2018 US Open - Day 12

FOOTBALL

England captain Harry Kane has brushed aside concerns over his workload, insisting his early-season statistics are nothing to worry about.

That Kane found himself facing questions over his mental and physical freshness on the eve of Spain’s Nations League visit to Wembley was perhaps puzzling; he will, after all, be collecting the World Cup Golden Boot before kick-off and has already netted twice in four games this term.

But there are wider worries about the burden he carries for club and country, both of whom treat him as indispensable, and how it is shaping his game.

To read what the England skipper had to say CLICK HEREEngland Media Access

CRICKET

Former England captain Alastair Cook was hoping for a fairytale finish with a century in his final Test match at The Oval.

But it wasn’t to be as he was bowled by Jasprit Bumrah after a fighting 71 from 190 balls.

New England No3 Moeen Ali, who scored an even slower 50 off 170 balls, and Cook had put the hosts in a strong position at 133 for one but then both Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow went for bagels as they lost three wickets for just one run.

In the end England recovered to be 198 for seven at the end of the day but much of Cook and Ali’s good early work had been undone.

To read our analysis of Cook’s innings CLICK HERE

Cook braved through a testing period to register a half-century.

Cook braved through a testing period to register a half-century.

FEATURE OF THE DAY

Wallabies scrum-half and Queensland Reds legend Will Genia knows exactly what is waiting for him when he runs out on to the hallowed turf of Suncorp to face the Springboks at 14:00 today (UAE time).

“They try to bludgeon you,” Genia told Sport360 from Brisbane.

“When you play against the All Blacks it’s the speed and the tempo of the game but with the Springboks – one thing I remember from playing against them is just how physical it is.

“Once they start getting on top of you physically they can certainly hurt you.”

To read what Will had to say before the crucial Rugby Championship CLICK HERE

Will Genia barks out the orders to the Wallabies pack

Will Genia barks out the orders to the Wallabies pack

SOCIAL MEDIA ROUND-UP

WHAT’S ON TODAY

CRICKET: England v India, 5th Test, Day 2   beIN Sports 13 HD

RUGBY:  Wallabies v Springboks    14:00 UAE Time   OSN Sports 4 HD

RUGBY:   Wasps v Exeter Chiefs   17:00 UAE Time   OSN Sports 4 HD

AFL:  West Coast Eagles v Collingwood   13:30 UAE Time   OSN Sports 5 HD

GOLF:   BMW Championship – Round 3   20:00 UAE Time  OSN Sports 3 HD

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Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro advance to US Open final

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Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic set up a US Open final clash as Rafael Nadal was left to curse the return of the knee problems that have dogged his career.

Looking to retain the title he won last year and cap another hugely successful season, Nadal must instead focus on rehabilitation after pulling the plug two sets into his semi-final against Del Potro.

The Spaniard had played down concerns over his right knee after having it taped during a long third-round match against Karen Khachanov and had survived a brutally physical encounter with Dominic Thiem in the last eight.

But, when he took a medical time-out early in the second set and returned hobbling to the court, it was clear something was seriously wrong, and, after going down 7-6 (7/3) 6-2, Nadal decided he could he longer continue.

A downbeat Nadal, who had spent nearly 16 hours on court in battling through to the last four, said: “I had some issues during the tournament. Then I think it was a little bit better.

“I think it was 2-2 in the first, 15-0, that I felt it. I said to my box immediately that I felt something on the knee. After that, I was just trying to see if in some moment the thing can improve during the match. But no, it was not the day.

“It was so difficult for me to keep playing, having too much pain. That was not a tennis match at the end. I hate to retire, but to stay one more set out there playing like this will be too much for me.”

Del Potro, a man far too familiar with his body letting him down, was sympathetic but also understandably delighted after ending a nine-year wait to reach a second slam final three years after he thought a wrist injury had ended his career.

The Argentinian said: “Of course it’s not the best way to win a match. I love to play against Rafa because he’s the biggest fighter in this sport and I don’t like to see him suffering on court like today so I’m sad for him but I’m also happy to move forward.

“It means a lot to me. I didn’t expect to get in another Grand Slam final. This is my favourite tournament, my biggest memories on a tennis court came on this court in 2009.”

Nadal is, of course, no stranger to knee pain having suffered recurring problems with tendinitis.

He said: “The pain on the knee is always very similar. The problem is this time it was something a little bit more aggressive because it was in one movement.

“I know what is going on with the knee. The good thing is I know how I have to work to be better as soon as possible because we have a lot of experience on that.”

It is the second time this year Nadal has been unable to finish a Grand Slam match having also retired during his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic after damaging a hip muscle.

The 32-year-old, who has only lost two other matches all season, said: “It’s not about losing. It’s about not having the chance to fight for it. It’s tough, these moments, but I’m going to keep going and keep working hard to keep having opportunities.”

The second semi-final was a tour de force from Djokovic, who matched the record of Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors by beating Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-4 6-2 to reach an eighth US Open final.

Djokovic made the most of the cooler weather with a superb display to stay on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles.

This has been the Serbian’s most consistent slam – aside from last year, when he was sidelined by an elbow problem, he has not lost before the semi-finals since 2006 – but he has only won the title twice.

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