Rafael Nadal will have to serve better and make sure he capitalises on his opportunities when he takes on Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open semi-finals on Friday, the Spaniard’s coach Carlos Moya asserts.
Nadal came back from a first-set bagel to defeat Dominic Thiem in a fifth-set tiebreak in the wee hours of Wednesday morning in Queens, New York.
The world No. 1 converted just five of 17 break points against a full-blast Thiem. Nadal dropped serve six times and had a 67 per cent success rate on his first-serve points.
Their quarter-final was a gruelling tug of war that lasted nearly five hours and finished at 2:04am.
“It was a great battle. Not the start that we were expecting. He was a bit off balance all the time and had no rhythm at all on Dominic’s serve,” Moya told Sport360.
“Honestly Dominic was playing very well. Rafa didn’t do well but Dominic went for his shots and they all went in. Not much to say about that. The second set was a new story, it was like the match starting for Rafa and he was able to win his games on his serve and he got into the match the way he was supposed to, the way we thought it was going to be from the start. After the second set everything was more open and Rafa played much better than the first set obviously and Dominic still played very well.”
Nadal’s next opponent will not be any easier as the defending champion takes on world No. 3 Del Potro for a fourth time in the last five Slams, and the third major in a row.
It’s a rematch of their semi-final here 12 months ago and Del Potro will be gunning for his first win over Nadal since the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Their Wimbledon quarter-final last July was an incredible marathon that saw both players produce inconceivable tennis in the fifth set.
“It could be another big battle as the Wimbledon match was. Of course, I like to play always with 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,” said Del Potro, who owns nine victories against world No. 1s throughout his career.
Moya is well aware of the Argentine’s threat and believes his charge will need to step thing up in the semis.
“I think maybe Rafa can serve a bit better. Besides the first set I think the rest of the match has been okay. He had many chances to break Dominic’s serve, in the fifth, even in the fourth set it was deuce in the last game, 6-5 deuce, he missed an easy volley. He had many break points, I don’t know how many he had but he had a lot and usually he has a good percentage of converting break points, so he had chances. That’s not very usual for Rafa [to miss his chances],” said Moya.
“So a few details here and there. But Dominic also played a great match and when he’s on fire like he was today, it’s hard to find a way to hurt him and Rafa was fighting unbelievably, trying to be aggressive when things weren’t easy and it paid off.”
Looking ahead to the Del Potro clash, Moya added: “I think it’s his favourite surface but the last three Slams, Rafa was able to beat him. Very difficult matches obviously but last year they played here and also Rafa found a way to turn things around after the first set that he lost. But it’s going to be a tough battle. Del Potro is playing very well and we know that he’s confident.”
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