LONDON – Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal are expected to headline the field when Rafael Nadal returns to the U.S. Open later this year.
The two players have combined to win eight of the last 10 major titles, and their quest for another is a point of pride for the tournament.
The U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam where tennis’ long-standing most powerful country hosts the entire competition, a reflection of its standing as the most powerful sports body in the country.
But the play of the two Puerto Rican-born singles champions, who are both practicing in Miami, has sparked renewed international debate, drawing strong support from various quarters, including a former president of Spain.
“A lot of people, a lot of Americans respect Juan Martin, a lot of people in Europe respect Nadal. What do you think?
Is it a good idea to be making sport-politics?” NUNA wrote in an email to del Potro in July, shortly after the champions met in Rome.
Nadal’s uncle, Toni, said that his nephew, who won a record eighth French Open title in June, had even been advised to quit tennis by Spanish sportswear company Puma, whose president, Kasper Rorsted, recently said a grand slam tournament of that stature could not be played in Spain.
Nadal, who returns to action in Sao Paulo next week, rejected that suggestion at the time, but he and del Potro, who beat American Sloane Stephens in the final of the 2017 Australian Open, have each been passionate about the differences between the respective countries, even though their games frequently overlap.
“Right now, I’m happy with everything. I’m happy with the work,” said del Potro, who has established himself as the game’s leading clay-court player under the guidance of coach Carlos Moya, a former four-time major winner.
“I think we have a lot of comparisons because we play the same type of game,” del Potro added in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’re both tall and we both play aggressive and long and we both have power. We don’t have to change anything.”
Del Potro also said Nadal’s return to Florida on Tuesday after nursing a stomach muscle injury has raised fresh expectations at Flushing Meadows, where he reached the final in 2008 but was beaten by Roger Federer.
“Everybody can see what Rafa is capable of and what he has done in the last years and what he can do,” del Potro said. “Now I am in the same place, so I have to prepare as if it’s Rafa. I have to win the event.”
Gomez went further, suggesting that when Federer turns 36, Nadal will be playing for his place in the sport’s history books.
“The most important day for me would be the day Rafa will beat Federer in my opinion. I think that would be a very, very important day for the sport,” he said. “It’s not easy to keep winning and winning and winning but Rafa will do it in my opinion.
“Because in 20 years I don’t think we will see (an) American champion like Rafa. That will be a very, very proud moment for him.”
Frank Griffiths can be reached at: www.twitter.com/frank_griffiths