There was a certain anger in Rafael Nadal’s game tonight.
After dropping the first set to Juan Martin del Potro, 4-6, the two-time US Open Champion decided enough was enough.
And del Potro had no chance.
The next three sets, 6-0 6-3 6-2 – including a 9-0 game run – moved the No. 1 seed to the Us Open Finals on Sunday against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson.
“It was an important day for me and an important victory against a great opponent,” Nadal said. “A tough on but I think I played a solid match. After the first set I changed my strategy and that is what changed the match for me.”
It wasn’t the result, which made this match interesting, as Nadal is the best in the world right now, it was how he came about winning. Something snapped in the Spanish bull and he came charging against the Argentinian matador and the only thing missing was a red shirt.
Anger can be a good friend or a distraction in a sport. It was interesting to see how Nadal, full of vigor and energy was able to channel it into success rather than a hindrance.
“I was more unpredictable,” Nadal said.
It’s what makes him the champion that he is.
Del Potro is also a champion, but a gentle giant, who can play the return game as well as anyone.
But when Nadal was changing, he had no shot.
That’s where the contrast comes with these champions. Del Potro could disrupt Roger Federer’s graceful moves, but cowered in fear at the charging bull.
“Rafa just play even better the last three sets of the match, and I couldn’t hit my backhand as good as I did in the beginning of the match,” del Potro said. “He’s a lefty player, so he couldn’t find easily my left side of the game. He played so smart from the second set till the end of the match.”
Del Potro’s backhand was not working for him and Nadal knew it and he played his game into that backhand.
“It was just a matter of time,” del Potro said.
Game. Set. Match.
And now Nadal faces Anderson on Sunday. A big server, who doesn’t have the championship pedigree of del Potro. If all goes according to Hoyle, Nadal should win easily, which will make this year two slams for Federer and two for Nadal.
This time last year, both Federer and Nadal were shells of themselves. Federer missed the Open with knee surgery, while Nadal was nursing a bad wrist. You wondered if it was time to turn the page on the two champions and look for new leadership in the men’s varsity.
However, something happened on the way to the retirement home. Both players took time off and got healthy. Both Federer and Nadal played for the Australian Open title, in Indian Wells and Miami.
Although Federer conceded the clay courts to Nadal, as it’s the Spaniard’s best surface, they both reestablished themselves as the top players in the world.
Now, Nadal has one more hurdle to match his buddy and Laver Cup teammate for this season. And frankly, it’s the way it should be.
Because whether it’s the grace of the Maestro or the rage of the Bull, tennis is still led by the two legends and tonight we saw Nadal at his angry best.