Del Potro, Monfils, Raonic in SAP Open semis
Juan Martin del Potro turned the first matchup of former Grand Slam champions at the SAP Open in eight years into a mismatch.
Del Potro took another step on his comeback from a debilitating wrist injury by beating Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 6-3 Friday to move into his first semifinal since 2009.
''I'm feeling good this week,'' del Potro said. ''But I'm still far off my level. I can play better. I'm getting better slowly, but I'm getting better and that's important. I know the way to find the solution to play good tennis.''
Del Potro is trying to regain the form that helped him beat Roger Federer in an epic five-setter in the 2009 U.S. Open final and eventually move up to No. 4 in the rankings. He was sidelined by a right wrist injury last year, playing just three tournaments and failing to win a match after the Australian Open in January.
He is showing signs of his old form this week in San Jose, especially in the way he dismantled Hewitt, the former No. 1 player who won the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002. But Hewitt hasn't been a top-10 player in more than five years and has slipped to 70th in the rankings after losing in the first round of the Australian Open.
Hewitt had no answer for del Potro's powerful first serve that consistently topped 130 mph in the first matchup here between former slam winners since Andre Agassi beat Michael Chang in the first round in 2003.
With del Potro getting 69 percent of his first serves in and winning 81 percent of those points, Hewitt was unable to find a rhythm all match. Del Potro lost just 12 points in eight service games, using a pair of aces to rally from a 0-40 hole in the final game of the first set.
''He's a quality player,'' Hewitt said. ''I don't think anyone doubted him. It was just a matter of how long it would take. His first couple tournaments last year he obviously was struggling a little bit when he came back. He realized what he had to do.''
Hewitt lost his serve twice in each set, falling in early holes that he was unable to escape. He had a key double fault in the final game of the match, losing it when he sent a forehand wide.
That gave del Potro his 15th straight win on U.S. soil, including the titles at the U.S. Open and in Washington in the summer of 2009.
Del Potro advanced to play defending champion and top-seeded Fernando Verdasco, who beat fifth-seeded Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-4. Verdasco improved to 8-0 at this tournament, earning the key break in the ninth game of second set when Istomin's drop volley clipped the top of the net.
''I'm very confident in this tournament,'' Verdasco said. ''I did win last year and that's in your mind in important moments.''
Fast-rising Milos Raonic will play second-seeded Gael Monfils in the other semi. Raonic advanced to his first career ATP Tour semifinal by knocking off Richard Berankis 6-4, 7-6 (2), and Monfils beat wild card Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-6 (6).
Raonic had six aces in each set and saved the only break point he faced all match. He earned the only break of the match in the third game of the opening set and came up with two aces in the tiebreaker to advance.
Raonic made it through qualifying to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open before falling in four sets to David Ferrer. Raonic has been the biggest mover on the tour rankings this season, going from 152nd at the end of last year to 84th entering this tournament. He is expected to be around 75th after the San Jose stop.
''It feels good but there's another match tomorrow,'' Raonic said. ''I have to prepare for it the same way I prepared for today. At the end of the week I'll look back and have my reflection on it.''
His next test will be the toughest yet, coming against a player ranked 12th in the world who has lost just one set in his first three matches in this tournament.
Monfils, playing with a sore left wrist, survived a pair of set points in the second-set tiebreaker to win a hard-fought match that featured only one break of serve.
''He played great today,'' Monfils said. ''He was strong at the baseline and moved very fast. I was a bit surprised. It was a good match. It was a great challenge for me.''
Monfils fought off two break points in the fifth game of the opening set before coming up with the only break in the 10th game with help from a double fault by Smyczek on game point. Monfils won the first set when Smyczek hit a forehand long.
Smyczek then squandered four break-point chances in Monfils' first two service games of the second set and fought his way into the tiebreaker in his first ATP Tour quarterfinal.
Smyczek took a 6-4 lead on his serve but hit a backhand long to lose the first set point. Monfils then hit a forehand passing shot that hit the line to even the tiebreaker and won the match when Smyczek hit a backhand volley into the net.