NEW YORK • There are three men's US Open champions still in the hunt for this year's Grand Slam crown - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro - but only one has worked his way into the fourth round without dropping a set.
Five-time champion Federer or world No. 1 Nadal would certainly have been the first two tipped by most fans for easy passage in the first week but it is del Potro who has reached the round of 16 most easily. The towering, injury-prone Argentinian has turned back the clock to rekindle memories of his 2009 Grand Slam title triumph and cement a lifelong love affair with the Big Apple.
"I don't want to cry this year. I am close," he said with a smile, after a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over 11th-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday.
"I want to play tennis, I had too many problems with my wrist a few years ago and now I have a chance to play here in New York.
"I love this tournament and I love to be here in New York."
There is something about the Flushing Meadows hard courts, where he has also advanced to the quarter-finals on three occasions, that brings out the best in del Potro. He swept to straight-sets wins over Swiss Henri Laaksonen and Spain's Adrian Menendez-Maceiras.
Federer was taken to five sets - first by American Frances Tiafoe, then Russian Mikhail Youzhny - in his opening two matches. But he eased past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 on Saturday.
Nadal has been slow to show his best. The Spaniard had to come from behind to defeat Argentinian lucky loser Leonardo Mayer 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 for his place in the fourth round.
He also dropped the opening set in his previous match against Japan's Taro Daniel.
Del Potro, however, is set to be strongly tested in his next clash when he takes on sixth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem.
The two have met twice with del Potro winning each time, including in the round of 16 here last year when Thiem retired injured when trailing 3-6, 2-3.
"He (Thiem) has everything to win the match," said the 24th seed. "He's having a great season. He's the favourite for the match. But I like to play him... is very special tournament to me.
"I'm getting good energy from the crowd in every match, and I'm feeling every day much better with my game."