Rio de Janeiro, Aug 14: Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro continued his improbable run in Rio Olympics men's tennis, holding off a determined late rally by Spanish No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal to win 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) and advance to the men's singles final.
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The unseeded Del Potro and Nadal went toe-to-toe for more than three hours on Saturday, including a third set that lasted nearly an hour and a half, and hammered ground strokes to all corners of the court in a dramatic and high-quality match from two champions who came in to this hard-court event with loads of questions surrounding their health and form, reports Efe.
The 27-year-old Del Potro, who has undergone numerous wrist surgeries in recent years, played in only one of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments and is currently ranked No. 141, struck first blood at the Olympic Tennis Center but then appeared to be in trouble when he squandered an early service break and went down a set to the Spanish great.
The 14-time major winner seemed to have control of the contest, but instead it was Del Potro who used his punishing forehand to take the second set and then go up a service break in the third and serve for the match at 5-4.
The Spaniard was on the ropes but he battled back to break Del Potro's serve at love, finishing off that game with a remarkable running forehand passing shot.
At 5-5, Nadal escaped a 0-40 hole and rallied to hold serve to briefly take the lead, but Del Potro's powerful baseline game proved too strong in the end.
He forced a tiebreaker and raced out to a 5-2 advantage before finally clinching victory when Nadal, who had saved one match point with a great defensive effort, misfired on inside-out forehand at 5-6.
The 2009 U.S. Open champion lay down on the court in celebration, basking in his remarkable return to the pinnacle of tennis just 14 months after his most recent wrist operation.
Nadal also has recently struggled with a wrist injury that forced him to pull out of Roland Garros -- a Grand Slam event he has won a record nine times -- mid-tournament.
The 30-year-old's disappointment was clearly visible after Saturday's loss, yet his strong performance in Rio, including a gold medal in men's doubles with partner Marc Lopez and a chance for a singles bronze on Sunday, would seem to indicate he is not done competing for major titles.
Del Potro, who started his magical run in Rio by knocking off Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in two tiebreakers in the first round, also seems poised to battle the game's giants on a regular basis.
The big question now is whether the Argentine will have enough left in the tank on Sunday against British world No. 2 and reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who spent just one hour and 20 minutes on court in his 6-1, 6-4 semi-final victory Saturday over Japan's Kei Nishikori.