KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — As Rafael Nadal trudged to his chair, 6-foot-6 Juan Martin del Potro stood near the net and unleashed a jubilant scream that only he heard because the fans were roaring too.
The 20-year-old Argentine delighted a partisan crowd by upsetting the top-ranked Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) Thursday in the quarterfinals at the Sony Ericsson Open.
“Wonderful for the crowd,” Nadal said. “Terrible for me.”
Del Potro had lost all nine sets in their four previous matches, but he was buoyed by a home-court advantage, with many transplanted Argentines in the crowd singing “Del-Po” between points.
“They helped me a lot,” del Potro said.
Also drawing cheers was 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who earned a berth in the women’s final by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.
The No. 6-seeded del Potro’s opponent today will be No. 4 Andy Murray, who beat No. 8 Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 6-2. Murray broke serve five times and saved seven of eight break points against him.
Del Potro showed patience in long rallies and used his looping forehand to keep Nadal deep as their three-hour match built to a dramatic finish.
“I beat him with my mind and with my game,” del Potro said. “When we played long points, I was dominating every time.”
Nadal was up two breaks in the final set at 3-love, but del Potro climbed back into the match by winning 12 of the next 14 points.
“I played really bad all the time,” Nadal said. “When I have it 3-love in the third, I played worse. It was amazing disaster.”
When Nadal lost serve for the second consecutive time for 3-all, del Potro let loose his primal scream. There was more noise to come.