Hulking 6’6″ frame, world-weary expression, and facial scruff notwithstanding, Juan Martin del Potro is just 20 years old. And after a fine season in which he got to the quarters at the Australian Open and the semis at the French, he has reached a new milestone, the first Grand Slam final of his still very young career, with a rout of Rafael Nadal.
Del Potro beat Nadal by playing like, well, Nadal, who was reduced in turn to watching tightly angled forehand winners fly by. Nadal suddenly found himself in the position of so many of his opponents, facing a player whose service return, speed, and focused power left him with helpless. He had no answer to Del Potro’s huge, varied serve, and the Argentine saved his biggest ones for when he found himself in the tightest spots. If he plays as well tomorrow, he’ll give either Federer (whose Apollonian calm and confidence he echoed today) or Djokovic an extremely tough match. And even if he loses in the final, this semifinal is a major victory that cements his place at the very top of the game.
As for Nadal, it’s a disapppointing end to the one Grand Slam that has still eluded him–he’s not yet even reached the final here. But he seemed upbeat after the match. When asked hhow he appraoches the big points in a match like this, he smiled broadly and answered, “In not the right way today.” He seemed a bit less certain about del Potro’s chances against a player, namely Federer, more in control of his game than Nadal himself had been: “We will see. I think he’s playing really well, but, you know, we will see what’s happen when one guy is playing longer with serving better and pushing him a little bit more than what I did today, no?” With Nadal back to his beloved Mallorca earlier than he would have liked, we will indeed see.