INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Cracking winners off his forehand in key moments, Juan Martin del Potro defeated top-ranked Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday, handing the Serb his first loss in 21 matches dating to last October.
Del Potro snapped his own four-match skid against Djokovic, who had beaten the Argentine in eight of 10 career meetings.
“I’m trying to hit hard with my forehands. When I have the chance to come to the net, I did all the time,” he said. “I was just focusing to put in my first serve and move to my forehands, trying to make winners.”
Del Potro’s 133-mph ace closed out the nearly 3-hour match featuring nine breaks of serve in 96-degree heat. He raised both arms in celebration and Djokovic hugged him at the net.
Del Potro, the second Argentine to reach the final here, will play Rafael Nadal for the title on Sunday. They each have three wins against each other on hard courts.
“When you play the top guys, they are the favorites, but I will try to do my game like just like today and then see if Rafa give me a little chance to win,” Del Potro said.
No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova and No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki will play in the women’s final.
At times, the unseasonable heat seemed to have worn down Del Potro, who draped a white towel packed with ice around his shoulders on changeovers, his chest heaving from several long rallies.
Del Potro was coming off a three-set win over Andy Murray in similarly hot conditions in Friday’s quarterfinals.
The heat also affected Djokovic, as did the shadows that eventually overtook the court as the afternoon wore on. He blew a 3-0 lead in the final set, and from there, Del Potro won six of the last seven games.