SHANGHAI – Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro stunned world No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of Shanghai Rolex Masters on Saturday night.
Nadal, who regained the top ranking this week from Novak Djokovic, was overmatched in what is a very rare occurrence.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion’s shots seemed to lack their usual speed and accuracy in the loss.
Del Potro, the sixth seed, was set to take on defending champion and top seed Djokovic in Sunday’s final. Del Potro will be seeking his fourth title of the season.
Djokovic beat France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 7-5 in their semifinal earlier Saturday.
Nadal, the second seed, had his serve broken for the first time in the tournament by the fifth-ranked del Potro in the opening game of the first set.
Del Potro continued his aggressive strategy, breaking Nadal again in third game, on the way to establishing a 4-0 lead.
The Argentine, who won the Rakuten Open in Tokyo last week, was taking the ball early and hitting consistently deep returns that were forcing Nadal to play way behind the baseline.
Nadal finally held serve in the fifth, but by this point the set was nearly over as del Potro clearly had the momentum.
The set stayed on serve until del Potro closed it out in the eighth game at love with an ace.
“I played so solid all the time, hitting the ball so hard,” stated del Potro. “I saw Rafa playing very far off the baseline, which is good for my game, for my serve, and confidence. That’s the way to beat this guy.”
Del Potro kept the pressure on in the second set, breaking Nadal with an incredible show of athleticism in the third game to move ahead 2-1.
After the pair exchanged an acrobatic pair of volleys at the net, they resumed rallying from the baseline, then del Potro broke Nadal with a thunderous forehand up the line.
Del Potro went on to hold serve to close out the contest in 1 hour, 46 minutes.
“He played amazing. I congratulate him,” said Nadal. “Very few times have I played against a player with a level like today.”
Nadal cited his serve as an issue in the loss.
“I could have served better than I did,” he noted.
The 27-year-old Nadal appeared fatigued from his quarterfinal battle on Friday night with Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka.
The victory over Nadal was the first by del Potro since he bested him in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2009.
Del Potro hit 28 winners to Nadal’s 15.
When asked if he thought he had a chance to someday become the No. 1 player in the world, del Potro didn’t rule it out.
“I always believe in myself. I always believe in my game,” stated del Potro. “It could be the biggest challenge of my career, getting closer to the top positions.”
The defeat was only the second this season (29-2) on the hardcourt for Nadal.
Despite the loss, Nadal’s season (68-5) has been nothing short of incredible, especially considering that he had been sidelined for seven months with a knee injury before taking the court this year.
Nadal’s last tournament of the season will be the BNP Paribas Masters later this month.
“What happened to me this season is just very emotional and fantastic,” Nadal said. “So what remains on the season is to play with the right attitude, positive, try to keep playing well.”
Federer seeking new coach: Roger Federer announced late Saturday that he was parting with American coach Paul Annacone. The 17-time Grand Slam champion lost here in the third round to Gael Monfils and has seen his ranking drop to No. 7 this year.
In a statement posted on his website, Federer wrote:
“After a terrific 3½ years working together, Paul and I have decided to move on to the next chapter in our professional lives. When we started together we had a vision of a three-year plan to win another Grand Slam title and get back to the No. 1 ranking. Along with many other goals and great memories, these two main goals were achieved.
“After numerous conversations culminating at the end of our most recent training block, we felt like this was the best time and path for both of us. Paul remains a dear friend, and we both look forward to continuing our friendship. I want to thank Paul for his help and the value he has added to me and my team.”
Two-time former champion Ana Ivanovic defeated Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4 Saturday to set up a final against top-seeded Angelique Kerber at the Generali Ladies.
Kerber overpowered Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-2, 6-0 to reach her second final of the season. The 10th-ranked German was beaten by Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic in the Tokyo final two weeks ago.
“Apart from the first set of my first match, everything is going very well this week,” said Kerber, referring to her 0-6, 6-1, 6-2 first-round win over Monica Niculescu.
The former top-ranked Ivanovic won the event in 2008 and ’10 and holds nine more WTA titles, but this will be the Serb’s first final of the season.
Ivanovic is 3-1 against Kerber, but the German won their most recent match in straight sets in Tokyo last month. Kerber is eyeing her third career title.
“It wasn’t an easy draw for me, so I am happy to get though,” said Ivanovic, who also didn’t concede a set in the previous rounds against Yanina Wickmayer, Francesca Schiavone and Dominika Cibulkova. “I am still looking for more consistency.”
The opening set against Voegele went with serve until Ivanovic broke her 58th-ranked opponent in the ninth game. Ivanovic dropped serve early in the second set but dominated the remainder of the match.
Voegele upset second-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States in the quarterfinals.
Earlier, Kerber used two breaks for a 3-2 lead in the opening set against Suarez Navarro and didn’t concede a game afterward. Kerber dominated with strong ground strokes, forcing Suarez Navarro into 16 baseline errors.
The fourth-seeded Suarez Navarro, who hadn’t lost a set getting to the semifinals, defeated Kerber in the fourth round of the U.S. Open last month.
Kerber was given a late wild-card entry in Linz to replace Kvitova after the former Wimbledon champion pulled out with a back injury.
By reaching the semifinals, Kerber secured the eighth and final spot in the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul.