U.S. Open: Novak Djokovic sets up del Potro final in NY

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He's nursed foot, back and wrist injuries, adductor and abdominal trouble. Australia, Roland Garros and Wimbledon present their own unique challenges, but NY, the final major, is an island unto itself. The Open is the one that takes place in unpredictable and increasingly severe climes.

Even though Nadal's title defence had ended prematurely, no one could begrudge Del Potro his moment in the sun.

It is an exercise in survival of the fittest.

Nadal stopped playing after dropping the opening two sets on Friday (Saturday NZT), putting Juan Martin del Potro back in a grand slam final for the first time since winning the 2009 title at Flushing Meadows.

"It's not a tennis match when one is playing and the other is at the side of the court". It was so hard for me to keep playing at the same time that way, having too much pain.

"I hate to retire", said Nadal, a player plagued by a series of knee injuries throughout his career.

The third seed could not take the opportunity as two set points went begging, but Nadal - who swiftly removed the tape from his knee - nevertheless found himself behind in another match as his rival's forehand strength came to the fore in a tie-break.

Djokovic has never lost to Del Potro at a Slam, winning twice at the US Open in 2007 and 2012, Roland Garros in 2011 and an epic five-set semi-final at Wimbledon in 2013.

"I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves".

Nadal said he didn't know what kind of effects might have been lingering from his quarterfinal victory over Dominic Thiem, which lasted five sets and almost five hours. That one lasted 4:49.

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The world number one worked his way back into the match but he was never in control and Thiem served for the third set. But once again Nadal stepped up the level, saved two break points in the game and then went on to claw back to 4-4.

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Nadal, who reached the last four in NY on the back of brilliant shot-making and incredible movement, looked out of sorts early against del Potro and struggled to cover the court with his usual tenacity.

The first set advanced to the tiebreaker after Argentina's World No. 3 drew back at 6-6. This represented a reversal of fortune. They didn't have a - Novak had something previous year.

"Maybe zero, maybe yes". I know he's playing well. The No. 3 seed has lost to Nadal in the semifinals in three of the last four Grand Slam tournaments.

He won 11 off the 22 grand slam titles played in the period, and was a losing finalist in seven of the other tournaments. Federer has had down time.

Del Potro, who has also had his career disrupted by injuries, was not happy to get the victory the way he did but the big-hitting Argentine will now get a chance to raise a Grand Slam trophy nine years after his first.

Nishikori, who like Djokovic missed the 2017 US Open with injury, made his third Flushing Meadows semi-final with a five-set victory over Cilic, who beat him in the 2014 final.

Yet the in-form Djokovic, who has a 2-5 record from his previous finals in NY, expects a stern test from the 2009 champion, who has also looked in tremendous form over the past fortnight.

The Spaniard dismissed suggestions the end of his career was approaching.

Nadal was asked about the increasingly taxing demands of the tour in the context of marquee players missing majors.

RAFAEL NADAL: Sorry, but is not fair to compare myself with them. "It is not a real comparison".

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