"I was just trying to see if something can improve during the match but no, it was not the day", Nadal said after the match. "I hate to retire, but to stay one more set out there playing like this will be too much for me".
The big-stage victories are all the sweeter these days for del Potro. While an nearly five hour quarter-final victory over Dominic Thiem, it would be fair to state concerns over the winning player in their subsequent match, but the quirks of the US Open schedule mean that the Spaniard will have had nearly 72 hours to recover from these exertions - virtually unheard of recovery time in the latter stages of professional tennis tournaments.
After del Potro won the set, Nadal took off his headband, sat down and pulled off his wristbands while a trainer spoke to him.
Nadal has reached four Grand Slam finals in the last two years - winning the US Open in 2017 and back-to-back French Open titles in 2017 and 2018. Certainly, the market has made a big adjustment on predicted pricing, and I'm not at all convinced that it should do to this extent.
Del Potro will now face Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 victor, who reached his eighth final at the tournament and 23rd of his Grand Slam career with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 stroll past Japan's Kei Nishikori.
After a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win over 2014-runner-up Nishikori, Djokovic is now just one win away from equalling Pete Sampras' haul of 14 Grand Slams - which would be another landmark achievement in his remarkable career.
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It was the second time this year that the world number one has retired from a slam as he also quit during his quarter-final against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open in January. I have tremendous respect for him as a person and a player.
"When you win or when you lose like this", Nadal said, "you come back home with the feeling that you did all the things that you can do".
Nadal tried to play through the pain but when Del Potro blasted a forehand victor to go ahead 7-6 (3) 6-2 the Spaniard removed his headband and said he could not continue.
"The problem is this time it was something a little bit more aggressive because it was in one movement".
"These moments are tough but I have to keep going and working hard to get more opportunities".
"Is not an injury that tells you six months off, you are back". I am having a lot of success.
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"I am playing the right way and enjoying things".
'All my career everybody say that because of my style, I will have a short career.
They had battled for 69 minutes in the first set before Del Potro eventually took it on a tie-break.
"We've never faced each other in a Grand Slam final so that will be something new for both of us", Djokovic said. "I was a kid then and now I'm much older".
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