Rafael Nadal demolished Andrey Rublev on Wednesday to reach a sixth US Open semi-final, setting up a first-time New York showdown against Roger Federer if the Swiss legend can down Argentine giant Juan Martin del Potro.
World number one Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 champion, brushed aside Russian 19-year-old Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in just 97 minutes.
Rublev, ranked 53 and playing in his first Slam quarter-final, was broken seven times and committed 43 unforced errors.
Nadal and Federer have come close to facing off on Arthur Ashe Stadium on five previous occasions when they were just one match away, only for one of the two to lose.
Back in 2008, legendary boxing promoter Don King, never short of hyperbole, even dubbed the potential clash as “Grapple in the Apple.”
“It would be more special if Roger and I met in the final this year, so we will have to try and come back and make it happen,” said 31-year-old Nadal, who has reached his 26th Grand Slam semi-final.
The reigning French Open champion and 15-time major winner added that he might not watch all of the Federer-Del Potro match as it clashes with his dinner time.
“We are from Spain and we always eat very late but of course I will be paying attention to it,” Nadal said. “They are two great players and will be a good show.”
Federer faces Del Potro for the first time in New York since the Argentine star rallied from a set and a break down to shock him in the 2009 final.
That thrilling five-set triumph ended Federer’s five-year reign as champion and his 40-match win streak.
Del Potro had also crushed Nadal in straight sets in the semi-finals.
Del Potro, who saved two match points to defeat sixth seed Dominic Thiem in a fourth-round thriller on Monday, has been plagued by injury ever since his moment in the New York spotlight eight years ago.
He has undergone four wrist surgeries, missed 10 Grand Slams and, at one stage last year, his world ranking slumped to 1,045.
If Nadal and Federer, the Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, do meet on Friday, it will also be a duel for the world number one spot.
– Pliskova loses top spot –
In the women’s event, CoCo Vandeweghe reached the semi-finals, knocking Karolina Pliskova off her world number one perch.
American 20th seed Vandeweghe claimed a 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 win over the Czech Republic’s Pliskova, whose brief eight-week stay as world number one ends with Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza taking over.
Vandeweghe’s victory means that the US Open will have an all-American semi-final line-up for the first time since 1981 if Madison Keys defeats Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi later Wednesday.
“I won the juniors here when I was 16 and dreamed of playing on the real stage,” said 25-year-old Vandeweghe, who also made the semi-finals at the Australian Open, beating then world number one Angelique Kerber in the process.
Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens had already set-up an all-American semi-final.
The last time four US women were in the semis was 36 years ago when eventual champion Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter all made it.
Pliskova, who had to save a match point to beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the second round, needed to fight back from breaks down in both sets to keep her challenge alive.
But a final break from the American for a 4-2 lead in the second set proved decisive and the match was hers when Pliskova buried a return into the net.
– Pliskova still believes –
Pliskova shrugged off losing her top spot.
“I just don’t care about this,” she said. “I didn’t choose to be at this position where I am now. There are many more Grand Slams to come. I believe I can win one.”
Keys looks to make her second Slam semi-final after the 2015 Australian Open.
Kanepi, ranked 418 but a six-time quarter-finalist at the Slams, has battled back from crippling foot injuries and a debilitating virus that has limited her to just five events in 2017.
Victory over Keys would make her just the third qualifier to reach a semi-final at the majors after Christine Dorey at the 1978 Australian Open and Alexandra Stevenson at Wimbledon in 1999.