In convincing style, Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro wore the game’s greatest star down and powered past 5-time U. S. Open Champion Roger Federer. Del Potro’s 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 four hour victory was a draining physical effort for Federer and a wild emotional roller-coaster ride for the 20 year old victor.
The turning point in the hard-fought match came at the end of the third set when Del Potro double faulted twice to hand the set to Federer. This is a time when other players have crumbled against the 15-time Grand Slam Champion. Instead, Juan Martin decided to win without his booming 137 mph serve and began to rely on his devastating forehand.
“At that moment I start to think I’m in the final, playing with Roger, the best player in history. I have nothing to lose,” the 6’ 6” Argentine told reporters. “Two sets to one down, I think, OK, you never lose until the last point, so keep fighting. The crowd help me, and they saw my fight in every point.”
What the crowd also saw was a player who took something off his power serve, and began to hit 110 mph forehands deep into the court. In a rare occurrence, the lanky Argentine began to move Federer around the court.
With 5 consecutive U.S. Open titles to his credit and with 6 wins over Del Potro, the Swiss star seemed surprised with the sheer force of the winner’s power game. Del Potro had a weapon. The crowd liked it. The champion gained confidence and kept pounding away. Suddenly, the unflappable Federer looked beatable.
The French and Wimbledon winner and Australian runner-up made 62 unforced errors, including an unusually high 11 double faults. Federer never seemed to recover from an uncharacteristic Hawk-Eye dispute with the chair umpire. In the end, it was Del Potro’s forehand that sealed the match.
The winner started slowly and it looked like the defending champ would coast to his 41st consecutive win at the Open. “The beginning of the match I was so nervous, I can’t sleep last night. I don’t take a breakfast today,” he said. “That’s part of the final, you know.”
Juan Martin finally broke in the 10th game of the second set. That first break seemed to give him confidence. He cruised to a lead in the tiebreaker and served out to capture the key set. With the win, the crowd rallied behind the first South American to win the New York title since Guillermo Vilas triumphed in 1977.
The Champion stormed to an early lead in the fourth set tiebreaker and again served out the game to grab momentum heading into the final set. After an easy hold in game one, Del Potro lashed three winners past a surprised and heavy-legged Federer, who seemed physically and emotionally spent. At 3-0, Juan Martin Del Potro appeared to want to focus on his service games. With Roger serving at 2-5, the unexpected happened as Roger missed a forehand, then a second forehand before hitting a winner. However he followed with a missed backhand to find himself at 15-40.
Like the champion that he is, Federer pulled back to even and even got to ad before Del Potro pasted another forehand winner. At deuce, Roger Federer did the unthinkable and double faulted. This just does not happen.
At the third match point, he could not withstand the forehand pressure and hit a backhand long. Del Potro sank to the court in recognition of the grandeur of his first Grand Slam Championship. At age 20, there will be more.
On this day, the better player won. For Federer, the loss ended a magnificent year in which he won two major titles and reached five set finals in the other two.
Del Potro took the hard road home, beating Rafa Nadal in the semis and Federer in the finals. No player has ever done that. It appears the power game is back and in the capable hands of the young Argentine. Congratulations Juan Martin, 2009 U.S. Open Champion. We knew you could do it! The changing of the guard is coming.