NEW YORK - Rafael Nadal looked lost, swallowed up by the huge serves and crushing forehands coming at him from the six-foot-six opponent across the net.
That was Juan Martin del Potro, who made his first Grand Slam final, handing Nadal a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 loss Sunday at the U.S. Open - the worst loss Rafa has suffered in a major tournament.
"I think this is the best moment of my life," del Potro said.
Nadal was dealing with a strained abdominal muscle, and after the match he finally admitted the obvious - that it was bothering him.
The six-time Grand Slam tournament champion also gave plenty of credit to del Potro, who deserved every bit of it after sapping all the life, and hope, out of a player whose relentlessness is one of his biggest attributes.
"I'm going to repeat: He played much better than me, and for that reason he beat me," Nadal said.
The sixth-seeded Argentine - the first from that country to make a U.S. Open final since Guillermo Vilas in 1977 - kept No. 3 Nadal pinned behind the baseline with a deep, flat forehand and a first serve he mixed at between speeds from the 90s to the 130s.
In the first set, Nadal put on his usual show, battling for every point, never giving in, even though it was clear he was being overpowered and playing at less than 100 per cent. The first four games crept along, at 27 minutes.
But he couldn't convert any of the five break points he had against del Potro's huge serve over the first 12 games, couldn't do much to neutralize an opponent who hit 33 winners, often running around his backhand to pound forehands down the line. And there was no waiting out this storm, no hoping del Potro might weaken, the way he did earlier this year at the French, when he was leading Roger Federer two sets to one at his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Federer came back in that one and might await again. In the final, pushed to Monday because of rain over the weekend, del Potro will play either him or Novak Djokovic. Del Potro's record against the two: a combined 0-9.
The result prevented the eighth Federer-Nadal final in a Grand Slam and first at the U.S. Open, and left Rafa still in need of a win at Flushing Meadows for the career Grand Slam.
"I'm sorry," del Potro told the crowd in his on-court interview. "But tomorrow, I'll fight until the final point for you, for everyone, to show good tennis."
Del Potro's first major final extends a stretch of improving tennis that began last year when he became the first player to win his first four titles in four straight tournaments. He saw his ranking jump from 65 to 13 and will likely move to No. 5 after this tournament.
He had two days off since his quarter-final win over Marin Cilic and could be seen often, walking the halls at Arthur Ashe Stadium, waiting out two days of rain delays that pushed the men's final back for the second straight year.
Nadal, meanwhile, had to finish his postponed quarter-final Saturday afternoon, and though that was a stress-free dispatching of Fernando Gonzalez that took 34 minutes to complete, there was no doubting who was in better physical condition for this match.