Nadal vs del Potro (US Open 2017): The Psychology

With just hours to go before this clash of titans, let’s look at the 2 players and the stort of the psychology in this match-up, which might help give some as to what will unfold later this evening.

Rafa Nadal

The Spaniard has had a whirlwind year. Looking at the Slams, he lost in 5 at the start of the year in Australian to old foe Federer, completed a phenomenal ‘La Decima’ at Roland Garros in May, was upset in R4 to Muller at Wimbledon, and now finds himself in the semi-final in this year’s final Slam. Rafa has the chance to end the year with 2 Slams, something I think he would have taken before the season started.

Rafa has dropped just 2 sets all tournament but — significantly — has hasn’t really been tested, having not played against any seeds. And with Federer out of the picture, he’ll know he has a big chance if he gets past this match.

Interestingly, watching discussion on Eurosport in the last half an hour, Rafa and coach Carlos Moya were tight-lipped about how much of the Federer vs del Potro clash they were going to watch, if any.

Rafa comes into this match fresh and free from the physical/mental burden of injury. That said, he has been more in-for-the-kill in recent months, looking to hit winners earlier, perhaps thinking about his knee problems of the past. Knowing he’s playing against another big-hitting player (Federer tweeted this before his loss to del Potro), this may be in the back of his mind, and it could be a battle with his wits to decide when to go for the winner during points.

A final point to add — this is Uncle Toni’s last Slam, the man who trained and coached Rafa since he was 3 years old. Will this be added pressure for Rafa? Will it spur him on? We saw his emotional speech after he completed La Decima, expressing everything Uncle Toni had done for him during his career.

Juan Martin del Potro

Whilst Rafa has had a fairly smooth path to the final, 28-year old del Potro has battled 3 top-11 seeds in his last 3 matches, #11 Bautista Agut, that match against #6 Dominic Thiem and then the icing on the cake, defeating Roger Federer in 4 sets. The latter came 8 years after he stunned the world be spectacularly defeated the Swiss in the 2009 final at Flushing Meadows at the age of just 20, at a time when Federer and Nadal were ruling the roost.

Whilst Rafa has enjoyed good fitness, Juan Martin was unwell before and during his R4 match vs Thiem and, he says, he thought about throwing in towel… he said the crowd — full of passionate Argentinian fans as always seems to be the case when is playing — spurred him on to fight. It was after this 5-setter, and during in fact, that I had a feeling about Juan Martin del Potro — hence I wrote this article (the article’s original title was even more bold).

I then observed his cool and calm interview just moments before he walked out for his Federer match; he said he was ready, acknowledging he was playing the “greatest player” and that he would just do his best. He later displayed humility in saying he got lucky against Federer in the 3rd set.

So the Argentinian now takes the confidence of knocking out 3 top seeds, including an against-all-odd comeback (just his 2nd career comeback from 2 sets down) versus a very tricky Dominic Thiem, and the G.O.A.T himself, Roger Federer. As he edges closes to the final, and the possibility of the trophy, this is where the realisation can set in and nerves can kick in… can he stay grounded and continue to concentrate on the match at hand, playing his best tennis?


The head-to-head is nicely posied, with Rafa ahead by 8 wins to Juan Martin’s 5. However, the Argentinian has won the last two matches, both on hard courts, and the last in the Rio Olympics semi-final, arguably of Slam-status (perhaps even greater, coming around only once every 4 years, rather than 4 times every year. You can look at the full head-to-head stats right here.

Who I’m calling

I’m sticking by my conviction since Juan Martin defeated Dominic Thiem, that he’ll come through this test and defeat Rafa Nadal.

What an intriguing match-up this will be. And it’s coming up straight after the Anderson vs Carreno Busta semi-final, currently in-play at time of writing.

by Jasraj

Friday 8th September, 2017

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