An emotional Rafael Nadal has been forced to retire from his US Open semi-final blockbuster against Juan Martin del Potro.
The 32-year-old was hindered by a persistent knee injury, and knew he wouldn’t be able to go the distance against his big-serving Argentine opponent.
But in true Nadal style and out of respect for his del Potro, Nadal played through until the end of the second set before calling it quits.
“I hate to retire,” said Nadal who has endured a series of knee injuries throughout his career.
“I waited as much as I can, very difficult to me to say goodbye before the match finished.
“But at some point you have to make a decision, and it was so difficult for me to keep playing in so much pain.”
Juan Martin del Potro reached the US Open final on Friday after defending champion and world number one Rafael Nadal quit their last-four clash with a knee injury.
Third seed Del Potro, the champion in 2009, was 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 ahead when Nadal retired.
The Argentine will face either Novak Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 winner, or Japan’s Kei Nishikori in Sunday’s final.
He also retired trailing in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic in January.
“It’s not a match when one is playing and the other is at the side of the court,” Nadal added.
Nadal, bidding for a fourth title in New York and 18th major, had spent the best part of 16 hours getting to the semi-finals.
That effort took its toll with the Spaniard twice needing to have his right knee bandaged before calling it a day after the conclusion of the second set.
“Well of course it’s not the best way to win a match. I love to play against Rafa because he’s the biggest fighter in this sport and I don’t like to see him suffering,” said 29-year-old Del Potro who will be playing in his second Slam final.
“I am sad for him but I’m also happy to do my best.”
Nadal’s challenge looked doomed even as early as the first set, feeling the injury after just four games, he admitted.
He needed his right knee strapped after the seventh game before gallantly fighting off two set points in the 10th game, breaking Del Potro who was serving for the set.
But the big Argentine swept through the tiebreaker, wrapping up the opener after 69 minutes of impressive shot-making.
The Spaniard called a medical timeout after three games of the second set to have the right knee rebandaged.
Del Potro sensed blood and broke for 3-1 as Nadal struggled for movement.
He broke again for 5-2 on his way to a two-set lead and eventual victory.
“It means a lot to be back in the final,” added Del Potro after his sixth win over Nadal, all on hard court.
“I didn’t expect to get to another Grand Slam final in my favourite tournament.
“I had my biggest memories on this court in 2009 when I beat Rafa and Roger (Federer, in the final). I was a kid then; now i am much older.”