Juan Martin del Potro has never quite rescaled the heights he climbed with his 2009 US Open victory, but the 25-year-old Argentinian underlined here yesterday how close he is to breaking back into the elite group of players who have monopolised the sport's major honours in the last four years.
Del Potro's thumping 6-2 6-4 victory over Rafael Nadal in the Shanghai Rolex Masters took the world No 5 into the third Masters Series final of his career, securing his place in the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. It was his first win in five meetings with Nadal since he beat the Spaniard in the semi-finals en route to his triumph at Flushing Meadows.
In today's final Del Potro will face Novak Djokovic, who beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2 7-5. Both finalists will be defending impressive winning runs. Djokovic is unbeaten in his last 19 matches in China, while Del Potro has won nine matches in a row during the current Asia swing, including the Tokyo title last weekend.
Nadal, who had no answer to the bludgeoning power of Del Potro's ground strokes, reclaimed the world No 1 ranking six days ago. This was only the second time in 15 tournaments he has failed to reach the final and was just his fifth defeat since returning from injury in February.
The Spaniard had not dropped his serve in 28 games en route to the semi-finals but was broken twice in a row as Del Potro raced into a 4-0 lead. Nadal held on in his next two service games, but Del Potro served out for the first set, completing the job with an ace.
Combining thunderous attacking shots with outstanding defence, Del Potro made the only break of the second set in the third game. Having secured victory after an hour and 45 minutes with a service winner, the Argentinian did a dance of joy.
Djokovic was in command from the start of the other semi-final, taking a 3-0 lead before claiming the opening set in only 34 minutes. Tsonga, whose performances this week have improved his chances of making the field for London, put up more of a fight in the second set. The Frenchman retrieved a break after going 4-2 down but dropped his serve for the fifth time at 5-6, Djokovic converting his second match point with a big forehand winner.
Jamie Murray and John Peers, who are pressing for a place in the eight-team doubles field at next month's World Tour Finals, were beaten 7-6 7-6 by the Spaniards David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco in the semi-finals.
The Scot and the Australian, who have won three titles this year and were runners-up in Tokyo in their first appearance at a World Tour 500 event, were playing their first Masters Series tournament together. They can still qualify for London but will need to make up more ground in the final three weeks of the regular season.