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Del Potro Reaches First Major Final

New York, U.S.A.

Juan Martin del Potro© Getty ImagesJuan Martin del Potro is through to his first major final.

ATP World Tour No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro produced a devastating display to record his third successive victory over reigning ATP World Tour Champion Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the US Open semi-finals Sunday to reach his first Grand Slam final.

"It's part of my dream," said del Potro. "I'm very close to do it, but this moment is so nice, and I always dreamed of this moment. I'm very happy to beat Rafa in straight sets, play unbelievable match. Of course it's great for me and for my future being in finals."

The Tandil native is the first Argentine to reach a major final since Mariano Puerta finished runner-up to Nadal in the 2005 Roland Garros final. The last Argentine to win a Grand Slam title was Gaston Gaudio at Roland Garros in 2004, when he defeated countryman Guillermo Coria.

Del Potro is bidding to become only the second South American champion at the US Open in the tournament’s history, joining Guillermo Vilas who triumphed in 1977, when the championships were contested on clay.

At the age of 20 years and 355 days, del Potro is the youngest US Open finalist since Novak Djokovic finished runner-up to Roger Federer in the 2007 final, aged 20 years and 100 days. In Monday’s final he will hope to put aside losing records against both Djokovic and Federer, who meet in the second semi-final.

"I will try to do my best tomorrow, trying to enjoy my first final," said del Potro. "Of course, I would like to win my first Grand Slam. I have to play better than today. Both will be tough. But I will try. I have a good sensation with everything, and I hope the best for tomorrow. I have the game to win tomorrow. I just want to be focussed with my tennis and try to beat Roger or Novak."

In what he declared was the best match of his career, del Potro dominated from the baseline – a fact evidenced by the 33 winners he struck in the encounter – and showed no nerves as he stunned the No. 3-ranked Nadal in two hours and 20 minutes.

Nadal, who only completed his quarter-final match Fernando Gonzalez yesterday, struggled to find his range in the early stages of the match and trailed by an early break 1-3 after volleying long. The Spaniard failed to find a way back into the set, despite break point chances in the seventh game, and del Potro made him pay with a rifling forehand winner to break the Mallorcan for a second time and assume a one-set lead.

While Nadal missed an opportunity to break serve in the first game of the second set – one of five break points he would be denied on in the match – del Potro was quick to take his chance. The Argentine thumped a forehand winner after a lengthy exchange in the fourth game and opened up a 3-1 lead as Nadal double faulted.

After squandering a break-back point in the following game, the Spaniard was made to work hard to avoid going down a double break – saving four break points to hold for 2-4. The Manacor resident could not keep del Potro at bay for much longer though and sensational hitting from the right-hander earned him three set-point opportunities in the eighth game. Nadal saved the first, but a forehand error from the No. 3 seed cost him the second set 6-2.

Del Potro pressed home his advantage early in the third set with his relentless attacking play earning a 2-0 lead. Appearing in just his second major semi-final, del Potro showed no sign of nerves against six-time Grand Slam champion Nadal and created three match points in the eighth game with a rifling backhand pass up-the-line to lead 0/40 on the Spaniard’s serve. Del Potro then closed out the well-deserved victory as another forehand drive was returned long by Nadal.

"I played a great match," declared del Potro. "I was so focussed with my serve, with every break point, playing serve, trying to put the ball into the court and trying to be aggressive. I saw Rafa on the baseline, but too far away on the baseline. That's important for me to come to the net and to do a short point. I served very well in important moments. I was confident with my forehand, and that's two parts of my game that are very important to be in good shape. Today I played unbelievable, and that was the key."

Afterwards, Nadal said his inability to win more of the big points proved costly. “Today I had I don't know how many breakpoints, but I had a few ones, and I didn't play well those points. I had a few 0/30 [opportunities], too. I didn't play well those points, too. He's played more matches and has more confidence. And if you have more confidence, you're going to have decision in that moment.”

Del Potro, the youngest player in the Top 20, has posted his best Grand Slam results in 2009 – beginning with a quarter-final showing at the Australian Open (l. to Federer) before reaching his first major semi-final at Roland Garros, where he fell again to Federer in five sets. He is one of just three players, together with Nadal and Federer, to reach at least two Grand Slam semi-finals this year and only the ninth player in the Open Era to do so while aged 21 and under.

The Argentine had a strong start to the 2009 ATP World Tour season, titling in the second week at the Heineken Open in Auckland (d. Querrey) before reaching the last eight at the Australian Open. He also defeated Nadal in the quarter-finals at the Sony Ericsson Open before losing to Andy Murray and avenged the defeat to the Scot in the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open as he reached the semi-finals (l. to Federer) at a second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.

The right-hander has been in blistering form during Olympus US Open Series, capturing his sixth ATP World Tour title at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic (d. Roddick) and defeating Nadal and Andy Roddick in succession to reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final at the Rogers Cup (l. to Murray). He has now won 16 of his past 17 matches.

The 23-year-old Nadal was contesting the US Open semi-finals for the second straight year (l. to Murray in 2008) and had the chance this week to become just the seventh man to complete the career Grand Slam. He would have become the second-youngest man to do so.

The left-hander will return to the No. 2 spot in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings next week; he relinquished his hold on the No. 1 ranking to Federer following the Swiss' 15th major success at Wimbledon.

This summer the Spaniard has made a welcome return from the knee tendonitis that saw him sidelined through his title defence at Wimbledon. Since a fourth-round defeat to Robin Soderling at Roland Garros, he has hit back well – reaching the quarter-finals at the Rogers Cup and the semi-finals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters (l. to Djokovic).

“In general I am very happy how I came back,” commented Nadal. “Today, well, sure, I can't be very happy today, but at the same time, I feel that I really can't do a lot more. He was much better than me today, and I congratulate him. I did a good result, very positive result for me after coming back. Semi-finals. Today he played better than me.”

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