US Open 2018: Men’s Semifinals Preview: Nadal vs. Del Potro; Djokovic vs. Nishikori

published: Sep, 07, 2018

by: Ben Stevens

They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, sometimes that’s a good thing – in this year’s men’s semifinals, it’s definitely a case of the latter.

Between Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin Del Potro, Novak Djokovic, and Kei Nishikori, Friday’s slate brings us four men already familiar with the semifinal stage in Flushing. Indeed, all four have won a semi here before (three have gone on to win the title), and depending on how the cookie crumbles, all four could win again – well, not at the same time of course!

Come Sunday, will it be Rafa-Nole LIII? Or maybe the two breakout stars in the class of ’09? Perhaps a mix of both? We’re only hours away from finding out. Read on for a preview of both mens semis on Friday in NYC.

Both matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium (4:00pm start)

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] v Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) [3]

The third overall – and second straight – semifinal showdown in New York between Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro, this has all the makings of a real cracker. One of the only players on tour who, on his day can simply walk through Nadal with the weight of his shots, Del Potro is always a chance at pulling off the upset – indeed, he nearly did at Wimbledon – although with the Spaniard’s 11-5 head-to-head advantage, it’s not the most likely outcome. In any case, expect this one to be razor-thin again, with the deciding factor being how long – or short – the rallies go. Either Del Potro flattens-out his groundies, pressures the Nadal forehand and looks to end points quickly, or he’ll give Nadal too many angles to play with, and the Spaniard will make him pay. That said, neither man is likely to have it his way for any more than a set at a time, and that’s why this has every chance of being another five-set classic.

(Not before 5:30 pm)

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [6] v Kei Nishikori (JPN) [21]

Four years on from a win that went down as one of the more remarkable semifinal performances in recent major history, Kei Nishikori gets the chance to run it back against Novak Djokovic in a match where he is once again the clear underdog. Holding a 14-2 head-to-head advantage (the last loss being that very semi four years ago) Djokovic certainly has every right to feel confident about triumphing this time, and it definitely doesn’t help matters that he’s already beaten Nishikori thrice in 2018. So how does the Japanese make this time different? Well, it comes down to tactical positivity – both his and Djokovic’s. Unless Djokovic keels over from exhaustion, Nishikori’s not winning the battle to outlast him rallies, and that means he needs to be more forthright – constantly redirecting the ball, playing closer to the lines, and even looking to approach the net on occasion – in other words, rapid (2-3 shot) point construction. Of course, Djokovic is still Djokovic, and he’s more than capable of upping the ante himself, but with no clear onus to change what’s working, Nishikori might be able to catch him by surprise. Anything less, and this one goes the way of the last thirteen matches.

Ben Stevens

Contributor to TennisConnected. Long time player, coach and fan. Still waiting on Mark Philippoussis to break through at a major.

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