A limping and visibly aching Rafael Nadal retired from his U.S. Open semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro on Friday after losing the first two sets, sending del Potro into Sunday’s final. Del Potro, who won 7-6 (3), 6-2 (retired), will face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic.
Nadal, the 2017 champion and No. 1 seed this year, battled with del Potro through the first set. Nadal called the trainer out after taking a 4-3 lead and the trainer taped Nadal’s right knee. It seemed to work for a while, and Nadal fought off two set points before he sent a backhand into the net on del Potro’s third set point.
Nadal grimaced often throughout the second set and didn’t move at all on the forehand that gave del Potro the second set. After that, Nadal waved his arms as if to say no more, then packed his bags and told the chair umpire he could not continue. He and del Potro spoke before Nadal packed his gear and walked to the locker room accompanied by applause from del Potro and the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I had some issues during the tournament. Everybody knows I had an issue in the second or third match,” Nadal said. “Then I think it was a little bit better but it was 2-all in the first, 15-love that I felt and I said to my box that I felt something. After that I was trying to see if things can improve during the match but it was not the day.
“I waited as much as I can, and you can imagine it is very difficult for me to say goodbye before the match finished. It wasn’t a tennis match at the end. It was one player playing.”
He said he was not sure if the 4-hour, 49-minute quarterfinal match he played against Dominic Thiem adversely affected him. He has had problems with tendinitis in that knee.
“I know how I have to work to be better as soon as possible,” he said.
Del Potro won the 2009 U.S. Open title but struggled with wrist injuries for several years. He’s popular among his peers and is often followed by a boisterous group of fans from his hometown of Tandil, Argentina. That group happily watched from above the court.
“Well, or course it’s not the best way to win a match,” del Potro said in an on-court interview. “I love to play against Rafa because he is the biggest fighter. I’m sad for him.”