Juan Martin del Potro came through a tight battle with top American John Isner 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 in sweltering conditions on Tuesday to reach the semi-finals of the US Open.
The 2009 champion fought off Isner in a 3hr 31min showdown and joked after the match about how tough it was playing through the heat.
Both players went off-court for a 10-minute break after the third set, since the extreme heat policy was in effect, and Del Potro was asked during his on-court interview what he did during that time.
“I took a shower, re-taped my ankles, and I didn’t want to come out again,” the world No. 3 said with a laugh.
He added during his press conference: “I think I played very solid this game. In particular I made good returns every service games. I had a lot of chances to break. I did couple of times during the game. I think I play on a smart game today. I saw John a little bit tired also. That’s give me a little bit more energy to keep trying.
“I played a good match. I don’t know if I’m playing my best tennis ever, but I’m feeling good. I reach another semi-finals in this Grand Slam, which means something big to me. I’m very happy for that.”
Isner, who now trails Del Potro 4-8 head-to-head, explained what makes Del Potro such a tough opponent to face.
“He’s so good, and especially when he gets control of the point, of course on his forehand side, he doesn’t miss that shot very often, if at all,” said Isner.
“He’s such a tough player and he’s playing well and he likes these conditions. He likes playing on a hard court like this. Yeah, I mean, again, when he gets control of the point, it’s very tough to wrest it back from him. Yeah, that’s what he does so well, and I think he’s exhibited that throughout this whole tournament. He’s been playing very well.”
Here are some stats and figures to put Del Potro’s victory into context…
2 – consecutive US Open semis for Del Potro.
3 – career US Open semi-finals reached by Del Potro (2009, 2017-18).
4 – wrist surgeries undergone by Del Potro (3 on his left one, 1 on his right).
6 – Grand Slam semi-finals made by Del Potro throughout his career (FO 2009, 2018; Wimbledon 2013; US 2009, 2017-18).
8 – Del Potro faced a mere eight break points through his five matches played so far this US Open. Saved three and dropped serve five times.
9 – victories for Del Potro over world No. 1s (lost 13), the most wins among all players who have never been ranked No. 1 themselves. He could face world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Friday’s semi-finals.
12hr 16min – Time spent by Del Potro on court en route to the US Open semis.
34 – wins against just eight losses for Del Potro at the US Open.
42 – match wins for Del Potro in 2018, against 10 losses. He’s inside the top four on the match win leaders list for the season.
66 – aces struck by Del Potro this US Open, third-most of all players entered in the main draw (behind Isner and Raonic), and most among players remaining in the tournament.
70% – Del Potro’s first-serve percentage this tournament, the highest among all players in the main draw.
71% – Del Potro’s success rate on net points this US Open (60/84).
83% – Del Potro’s winning percentage of points on his first serve, tied for second highest among players who have contested more than two main draw matches.
189 – winners struck by Del Potro this US Open, against 104 unforced errors.
* Stats via US Open match notes/IBM system
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Anastasija Sevastova’s remarkable comeback story has taken her from retirement to the semi-finals of the US Open in less than four years.
Sevastova walked away from tennis in 2013 due to continuous struggles with injuries and illnesses but returned to the sport in 2015 and has been going from strength to strength ever since.
The 28-year-old, who made history on Tuesday, defeating Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3 to become the first Latvian woman to reach the US Open semi-finals, showcased incredible shot variety against the American, and stood her ground when she needed to.
It was a rematch of their US Open quarter-final from last year and it was Sevastova’s third straight appearance in the final-eight in New York.
“I think it was third time lucky. But if I would lose I would also be proud of myself. Three times quarters. It’s not happening every year or every day,” said Sevastova after her triumph.
“Tough loss last year. But every loss you learn something, and I was okay if we would play three sets. Yeah. I was also thinking about that match at 4-1 in the second set, but it happened. I was still proud of this match. I think it was a great match last year, and now look what happened now?”
Sevastova retired from tennis when she was 23 but the two-year break she took from tennis is now looking like a blessing in disguise. She has won two titles since her return, in Mallorca in 2017 and Bucharest this season, and hit a career-high ranking of 15 11 months ago.
She’s now one win away from being a Grand Slam finalist.
Anastasija Sevastova defeats Stephens 6-2, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal!
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 4, 2018
“I’m relieved that the match is over in this heat. Yeah, how do you feel? You feel happy. I think you need some time then to look, to look at this journey. It was an amazing journey, this three, four years,” said Sevastova.
“Right now you’re so in, you’re in the tournament, you’re playing next tournament next week, and you don’t feel it, you know. You think, oh, but in the end it’s amazing, yeah? You can’t believe, yeah. So after I stop at some point I will look at it and I will be proud of myself, for sure.”
Asked what kind of goals she set for herself when she decided to return to tennis, Sevastova said: “I had done not many goals. Maybe top 100. I was thinking, okay, maybe a couple of years, play top 100. Enjoy the game.
“But now, obviously when you win more, you have higher goals. And when you’re, like, winning a tournament, you think that’s normal. I can win it maybe next week again.
“But you have to appreciate it more, I think. You have to see that what you’re doing, it’s like a privilege here, yeah. So try to keep it low and try to, yeah, enjoy it.”
Sloane Stephens remains proud of her efforts this fortnight but rues her missed opportunities as she saw her US Open title defence come to an end at the hands of Anastasija Sevastova in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Playing at noon in scorching weather in Queens, New York, the American lost 6-2, 6-3 to Sevastova, who was appearing in the quarter-finals here for a third consecutive year.
Sevastova made history as the first Latvian woman to make the US Open last-four and next faces Serena Williams or Karolina Pliskova, who play their quarter-final on Tuesday night.
The third-seeded Stephens was unable to convert any of the seven break points she created in the opening set and was broken twice to give her 19th-seeded Latvian opponent a one-set lead.
The conditions were brutal and the tournament announced that junior play was suspended because of the heat and wouldn’t resume until the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature reading went below 32.2 degrees Celsius. Senior play somehow continued.
The defending champion was broken at the start of the second set and despite breaking back, she found herself down 1-4.
The American still tried to claw her way back, and saved break point while trying to level the set for 4-all, but Sevastova set down a clutch drop shot winner to break again and open up a 5-3 advantage.
Stephens saved two match points in the next game but Sevastova sealed the win on her third opportunity as a Stephens backhand landed in the net.
The world No. 3, who has been suffering from a sinus infection for the past week, refused to cite illness as an excuse and chalks up the loss to just it being a bad day at the office.
“When you don’t play big points well, the match can get away from you. I think that’s what happened today. I didn’t convert. I didn’t play the big points well, and you don’t win matches when you don’t take your opportunities,” said the 25-year-old Stephens.
“I think today I just really couldn’t get anything to connect.
“Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t connecting. It just was a really tough day. The heat doesn’t make it any more fun.
“Nothing was wrong with me before the match. I was excited to play, happy to get out there and compete. Today was a bad day. I wish I could have played better. The better player won.”
The Extreme Heat Policy was in effect on Tuesday which means the women get a 10-minute break after the second set if the match goes to a third. Men get the break after the third set.
Roger Federer said the stifling humid conditions on Monday night during his four-set defeat to John Millman meant that he “couldn’t get air. There was no circulation at all”.
Asked to elaborate on how tough the conditions were, Stephens said: “It was just really hot. You can’t control the weather, can’t control what the tournament is going to do. You just have to go with it.
“Unfortunate that I played first match at 12:00 and it was so extremely hot, but it was hot for both of us. She handled it better. Yeah, sometimes it happens like that.”
Despite her defeat, Stephens is pleased with how she handled the occasion of being the reigning champion in New York and with no points to defend for the rest of the year (she went on an eight-match losing streak after winning the 2017 US Open), she is looking forward to potentially moving up in the rankings and securing a spot in the WTA Finals in Singapore.
“The fact that I made it to the quarter-finals and played some really good matches and I just competed as hard as I could, I mean, a lot to be proud of,” said Stephens.
She added: “I hope that I can go to Asia and win some more matches and hopefully make the year end and hopefully keep going as far as I can.”