NEW YORK • New York City has hosted many grand events, from Broadway spectacles and heavyweight prizefights to World Series and World's Fairs.
It has also been the stage for compelling tennis matches involving the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
But in an odd twist of fortune, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the biggest names in men's tennis history, have never faced each other at the sport's annual New York extravaganza.
They will not this year, either. Whatever has conspired to keep those two apart over the years arose to disrupt them again on Wednesday night.
This time, the 24th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro was the agent, upsetting third-seeded Roger Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 in a riveting match at Arthur Ashe Stadium and stepping into what so many had hoped would be the Swiss legend's place opposite Nadal in one of today's (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) semi-finals.
Del Potro, the rangy 28-year-old from Argentina with a turbocharged forehand and a tightrope-walker's nerve, remained steadfast in the face of Federer's assaults on his backhand and numerous shifts in momentum.
Federer made 41 unforced errors, nine more than his rival, and his 60 winners were 12 more than del Potro, whose blistering serves took their toll.
"I played my best match of the tournament," del Potro said in an on-court interview with ESPN after his victory. "I did everything well. I served so good and hit my forehand as hard as I can."
The Argentinian, however, admitted he will not be physically 100 per cent fit to face world No. 1 Nadal.
Del Potro has been plagued by injuries since he won his only Grand Slam title in New York in 2009, beating Federer in the final and Nadal in the semi-finals.
"Against Rafa, it will be a much harder match. I am not in good condition," he said. "But it's a semi-final so anything can happen. I have to be ready to face Rafa.
"I will try to exploit the atmosphere and if I play my best I can be a danger to him."
Earlier in the day, the Spaniard reserved his place in the semi-finals by beating Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in 1hr 36 min.
There was not much suspense in that match, a mere tune-up for Nadal, who has played del Potro 13 times and won on eight occasions.
But del Potro won the last two, both contested on hard courts, including a victory in the Rio Olympics last year.
"It is true that when he's playing well, it's difficult to stop him," Nadal said of del Potro. "Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the Tour."
For Federer, it was all down to "troubled preparations".
The Swiss, who skipped the US Open warm-up tournaments because of back pain, said he was fit to play but the damage had been done before the action started in New York.
He told a news conference: "I don't want to take anything from Juan Martin but when you get injured before a tournament, you are not focused on training or on how to play during the tournament."
The 19-time Grand Slam champion believes that as a result, he was unable to recapture the form he displayed in his victorious campaigns at the Australian Open and Wimbledon earlier this year.
NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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