Nadal had had his right knee taped during his gruelling third-round clash against Karen Khachanov but insisted afterwards it was not a big issue and he appeared in good shape for his next two matches.
The third seed, who advanced after world number one Rafa Nadal retired from their match due to injury on Friday, said persistent wrist ailments almost led to him exiting the sport in 2015, what he called the "worst moment" of his career.
"Of course, it's not the best way to win a match", said del Potro, who hugged Nadal when it was over.
"That was not a tennis match at the end".
Nadal's all out, take-no-prisoners attacking style has seen his body absorb more punishment on the court than perhaps any other player, leaving many to wonder just how long the 32-year-old can continue to pound away.
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The Spaniard was simply unable to recover and had his knee attended to again in the second set as Del Potro marched through to take it 6-2 with minimal trouble. Nadal was clearly hobbled, and the overpowering game of del Potro ultimately proved to be too much. Nine years ago, he stunned Nadal in the semifinals, then Roger Federer in the final, to win the US Open at age 20.
Nadal also quit during his quarter-final against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open in January.
"It was hard for me to keep playing".
He should have won the first set more easily, as he served for the first set at 5-4 and blew two set points with unforced errors. Nishikori beat the Czech in their rematch in the quarter-finals this time. He has proven in the past that he can match Nadal on hard courts and assuming he can get his forehand firing, he can nick this one in four sets.
On men's semifinal day at the US Open on Friday, Novak Djokovic, the No. 6 seed, made his second consecutive major final with a convincing straight-sets performance against Kei Nishikori.
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Sep 7, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Rafael Nadal of Spain winces while receiving treatment from an ATP trainer during a changeover against Juan Mart'n Del Potro of Argentina (not pictured) in a men's semi-final match on day twelve of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
"I feel that this tournament, Juan Martin is hitting a little bit bigger off his backhand".
In the sixth game of the second set, he argued with umpire James Keothavong over a line call, telling the British official: "It's all right, i'm going to retire, but you were not right on this one".
Those pals helped del Potro get through the toughest times, as he would need to repeatedly return to have surgery.
Djokovic and Del Potro have faced each other 18 times before with the Serb leading the head-to-head 14-4. "I had my biggest memories on the tennis court playing on this court ... but I was a kid".
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