SAN JOSE, Calif. – While Juan Martin del Potro took another step in his comeback from wrist surgery, Gael Monfils pulled out of the SAP Open with his own wrist injury.
Monfils announced his withdrawal on Friday, just hours after beating Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-6 (6) to advance to the semifinals. Del Potro also reached the semifinals for the first time since his wrist surgery last May, beating Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 6-3.
Monfils originally hurt the wrist in the first round of the Australian Open last month against Thiemo de Bakker. He played two more matches in Melbourne and then came to San Jose, where he won his first three matches and beat Pete Sampras in an exhibition.
But the wrist was still painful and limited him almost to slice shots on his backhand all week. He had an MRI on Monday, then was examined by tournament and French federation doctors Friday before making his decision.
"I can't hit a backhand," he said. "I tried but my backhand was very soft. I have a better backhand than I showed here, more powerful. The worst is it hurts. It hurts."
Monfils will be sidelined for four to six weeks, pulling out of tournaments in Memphis, Acapulco and the Davis Cup.
The withdrawal sends Milos Raonic into his first career final after knocking off Richard Berankis 6-4, 7-6 (2). Raonic will play Ivo Karlovic in an exhibition on Saturday in place of his scheduled semifinal match.
Del Potro will play defending champion and top-seeded Fernando Verdasco, who beat fifth-seeded Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-4.
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.
"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."
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.
To extend that streak he will need to beat Verdasco, who improved to 8-0 at this tournament. Verdasco earned 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."
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.