Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro have played 13 times in their careers, with their first encounter coming all the way back in 2007 at the Miami Masters The Spaniard leads the head to head 8-5, but the Argentine has a 5-4 advantage on hard courts. Despite Nadal winning their first four meetings without a single dropped set, since then the matchup has not only become competitive but also one of the best in tennis. With their semifinal at the US Open not too far away with the winner heads on favourite to take the title here’s a look at their five best matches.
- 2011 Davis Cup Final Round Robin
Nadal 1-6 6-4 6-1 7-6(0)
2011 was the comeback year one could have only dreamed of. From being the World #485 in January, Del Potro found himself all the way at #11 at the end of the year. The only real issue was that despite a good comeback the Argentine found himself with just three wins in eight matches against top 10 players going into the match against the great clay-courter. Meanwhile, the Spaniard was at home on the clay and in Spain, in yet another year he had won Roland Garros.
That’s what made this match so amazing–no one really expected Del Potro to push the Roland Garros champion but that’s exactly what he did. The 2009 US Open champion came out in the first set like a man possessed, dominating and taking the first set easily 6-1 and shocking the tennis world. It wasn’t long before Nadal fought back, winning the second set 6-4 breaking in the final game of the set and the third against a tired Del Potro 6-1. Just when it looked all over the Argentine sparked back into life, and despite the World #2 serving for the match at 6-5 Del Potro hit a stunning forehand winner to take them into a tiebreak. As good as the set ,was fatigue finally got the best of Del Potro and Spain won the Davis Cup with a Nadal forehand winner to seal the tiebreak 7-0. Despite the result, one thing was for sure, as long as Del Potro remained fit he was going to be a threat to everyone.
- 2016 Rio Olympics Semi-Final
Del Potro 5-7 6-4 7-6(5)
In their most recent encounter, Del Potro started his tournament beating World #1 Novak Djokovic in the first round with a sublime performance, but after that things didn’t go so great. The World #141 looked vulnerable losing sets to Joao Sousa and Taro Daniel, while Rafael Nadal didn’t look too convincing either entering the semi-finals, having just lost a set to home favorite Thomaz Bellucci.
As many expected, the quality of the match wasn’t great but one thing for sure was the atmosphere, crowd and drama were amazing. When the 2008 Olympic champion took the first set it looked like he was going to give himself another chance at a Gold Medal. Del Potro, however, fought back, taking the second set 6-4 and breaking the Spaniard at 4-4 in the deciding set before the 14-time Grand Slam champion hit a stunning passing shot to break straight back with a celebration that was unique for even Nadal himself.
Unfortunately for the man from Mallorca, despite saving one match point in the tiebreak, one of the worst forehand misses of his career occurred on the second, handing the match and at least a guaranteed silver medal to the 27-year-old from Argentina.
- 2011 Wimbledon Round 4
Nadal 7-6(6) 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4
A match that caused a lot of controversy due to the timing of Rafael Nadal’s medical time out. Either way, whether you think it impacted Del Potro enough to change the outcome of the match is a question we’ll never know the answer to, but what we do know is that the match we did have was a treat.
Regardless of being the better player in the first set, the Argentine found himself in a tiebreak and despite leading 3-0 and having a set point, it wasn’t long before the defending champion battled back, taking the set 7-6(6). The second set was more of the same but this time with the Argentine finally taking a chance to break and leveling the match. The third was yet again a tight affair, with Rafael Nadal coming through another tiebreak before a great forehand at 2-2 in the fourth sealed the only break of the fourth set–and then sealing the match in three hours and 52 minutes.
- 2013 Indian Wells Final
Nadal 4-6 6-3 6-4
The World #5 Rafael Nadal against the World #7 Juan Martin Del Potro for the title. Nadal coming off wins against Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych while Del Potro had just beaten Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. There really wasn’t much to choose; the match on paper could have gone either way and that’s more or less how the match went.
Despite having to save break points to avoid going 0-4 down, the 6’6” man quickly recovered and bulldozed himself to a convincing 6-4 3-1 lead with stunning tennis on both wings sending the Spaniard all over the court. Unfortunately for Del Potro fans, fatigue from the long encounters against both Murray and Djokovic finally kicked in, giving Nadal a glimmer of hope. That’s all it took for former two-time champion to up his level immensely, winning five straight games to level up the match. Just when it looked like Nadal could run away with the final set, the Argentine upped his game again, but just one break of serve was needed for Nadal with a missed backhand by the big man on Nadal’s fourth match point sending the king of clay to the ground with the win.
- 2009 Miami Quarter-Final
Del Potro 6-4 3-6 7-6(3)
Rafael Nadal was coming off his first Australian Open title while Del Potro was starting his first season inside the world’s top ten. Del Potro had lost in the quarterfinals of his last four events, including a 6-3 6-0 6-0 demolition by Roger Federer at the Australian Open and a 6-2 6-4 loss Rafael Nadal just two weeks prior. With all that in mind, not many gave Del Potro a hope let alone a real chance but who knows, maybe a huge surprise was upcoming.
That’s exactly what happened, with a huge forehand at 4-4 in the first set the South American broke and with a hold in the next game clinched his first set against one of the game’s all-time greats. Just like their future match at Indian Wells, as mentioned above, Del Potro went a break up in the second but it wasn’t too long before Nadal hit back and took command of the set eventually taking it 6-3. At 3-0 in the third, the match looked over with the World #1 having a double break but that’s where one of the best comebacks in recent Masters memories begun.
Not only did Del Potro get back on serve, he played some of the greatest break points you’ll ever see–with the crowd going completely insane and sending the Argentine to greater heights than he’d ever reached before. Keeping up his insane level of play the Argentine found himself with match points at 6-5, but Nadal–being as clutch as ever–saved them all including one with an ace. For a minute it looked like the disappointment of not converting a match point was going to hurt Del Potro ,but an awesome tiebreak led to him taking the match on his fourth match point. If anything, this is not only the best Nadal vs Del Potro match but also the match that made Del Potro into the beast he became later in 2009 and now currently is during this year’s US Open.
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