FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – There’s a new U.S. Open men’s champion. His name is Juan Martin Del Potro, who overcame a one set deficit against the game’s best, coming back to dethrone five-time winner Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 before an electrified Ashe Stadium in Flushing.
The first Argentine to win the Open since Guillermo Vilas (1977), who was in attendance for an epic four-plus hour match was at a loss for words after winning his first ever grand slam title.
“When I would have a dream, it was to win the U.S. Open, and the other one is to be like Roger. One is done,” an emotional del Potro told a cheering crowd during a nice on-court ceremony in which he also asked CBS’ Dick Enberg if he could speak in Spanish for all his special fans back home.
“Well, because my parents want to come watch the final and say, no, be there. Of course they are part of this moment. They believe in me a lot like my coaches. It’s a special moment for me, for my parents and my friends. This trophy is for these, too.”
The victory was extra special for the lanky 6-6 man who became the tallest player ever to win a major. Thanks to a huge game featuring a lethal forehand that did plenty of damage producing nearly 40 of his match best 57 winners, he finally got the better of his well accomplished opponent who was aiming for more history- trying to become the first player to win six consecutive Opens since Bill Tilden and also win three slams in a row in the same season since Rod Laver (1969).
All that stood in the way was Del Potro of the all-time slam champion adding more impressive accomplishments to his Hall of Fame career. From the outset, it looked like the world’s best was intent on making quick work of an opponent who nearly got him in a French Open semifinal before running out of gas in five sets.
“I got off to a pretty good start, and had things under control as well in the second set. I think that one cost me the match eventually. But I had many chances before that to make the difference,” Federer assessed.
“So it was tough luck today, but I you thought Juan Martin played great. I thought he hung in there and gave himself chances, and in the end was the better man.”
Indeed, a sharp Federer came out smoking converting on his fifth break opportunity for an early 2-0 lead when he ran down a backhand from one side, steering Del Potro wide for a half volley before going full steam for an amazing running forehand cross which left the Argentine in disbelief.
A timid Del Potro struggled to get first serves in but finally got on the board for 1-3. Still, it was Federer who was more aggressive pinning the soon to be 21 year-old behind the baseline with precision hitting that also allowed him to finish points off at net where he had large success going 10 for 11 in the opening set.
“Yes, the beginning of the match I was so nervous, I can’t sleep last night. I don’t take a breakfast today. That’s part of the final, you know,” del Potro said.
“But Roger start very good. I start little down. I miss I was bad with my serve, and that’s important weapon of my game. When I broke his serve for first time, I start to believe in my game. To change.”
Despite the slow start, Del Potro did exactly what he promised a day before after defeating Rafael Nadal by giving maximum effort every point. That kind of desire would be necessary if he was going to have a shot. In the sixth game, he fought off a break point then delivering a pair of aces to hold for 2-4. In the next game, he finally put pressure on Federer taking the first two points but the more experienced 28 year-0ld Swiss Maestro used a couple of big forehands to get out of the jam for 5-2.
It looked like Federer would finish off the set with a double break but again the feisty Del Potro saved three set points capturing the final five, holding with an ace to stay alive.
However, that didn’t deter Federer who still served it out with an ace out wide to take the set. History was on his side with the last 16 champions winning the first.
Things continued to look good for the reigning five-time champ who was handed the opening game of the second set due to four Del Potro miscues including two double faults.
Following a hold, Del Potro finally had his first looks at breaking Federer but the 15-time slam winner didn’t oblige dodging all three for 3-1. Somehow, he was still in comfortable position despite struggling on his serve like never before. For some reason, Federer missed a lot of first serves and was in the low 40’s yet hadn’t been broken, even throwing in double faults serving an uncharacteristic 11 to his younger foe’s six. Del Potro couldn’t make him pay but that eventually changed.
Del Potro nearly went down double break but held to hang around for 2-3. With his serve finally in gear, he began steadying from the baseline with his monster forehand and underrated backhand starting to turn the tide. Suddenly, he was getting looks at Roger’s serve but couldn’t cash in falling behind 3-5.
Following a love hold, things looked pretty dicey when Federer easily took the first two points serving for the second set. That’s when a desperate Del Potro stepped it up winning the next four points with some great hustle and unbelievable shots to get back even five all.
It began with an innocent backhand lob which a running Federer couldn’t save this time looking like he might try another tweener like the one versus Novak Djokovic that setup match point yesterday. Instead, his desperating lob floated long helped by Del Potro.
After he took the next point, the turning point came when a gliding Del Potro ripped a forehand down the line which initially was ruled out. He challenged and replays showed that it just caught the edge upsetting a stunned Federer who pointed to the mark thinking, ‘No way.’
Suddenly with break point and the crowd on his side, Del Potro rode the momentum with another great forehand pass pumping his fist to capitalize.
The set would need a tiebreaker. Never before had Federer dropped one in four previous tries in the final. But this time, Del Potro was a little better using a Federer forehand mishit for the only mini-break he’d need to go up 4-3. He then backed it up with forehand and backhand winners giving him three set points.
After Federer saved the first two on his serve, an inside out forehand gave a pumped up Del Potro the set.
“I thought I had him under control for the first two sets. I should never have lost so many chances. It was just a pity. I think if I win the second set, I’m in a great position to come through. Unfortunately, I didn’t win that and that was it,” Federer accurately pointed out.
With it all even, Del Potro continued to grow in confidence going for his shots willing to trade from the baseline. His forehand continued to get to Federer who was still having serving issues. Finally, the Argentine moved ahead 4-3 in the third set thanks to a huge forehand drawing a Federer miss which was followed by an emphatic yell from the underdog.
But as usually is the case, Federer broke right back flustering Del Potro who looked pretty mad at himself. Yet he stayed strong producing a ridiculous 110 mph forehand winner for another break chance but Federer dug out for 5-4.
The unpredictable set concluded with Del Potro having a rough 10th game with an unlucky net cord giving Federer Love-30. Following taking the next point, he fell apart with back-to-back doubles donating the set to Federer who by that point was antsy due to the chair umpire allowing a late challenge by Del Potro the previous game.
In the set, Federer held a 13-4 edge in winners while converting two of four break points to Del Potro’s one for three. He also finished off five of seven at the net where he went 66 percent (31 of 47) overall.
“Well, when I won the second set, I think if I continuing playing same way, maybe I have chance to win. But after, when I lost the third set, going to break up, I start to think bad things, you know,” del Potro analyzed while admitting to being very nervous when he threw in the doubles to fall behind adding:
“Yeah, but that moment I start to think the final, playing with Roger, the best player of the history, nothing to lose. And be two sets to one down, but I think, okay, you never lose until the last point, so keep fighting. The crowd help me, and they saw my fight in every point.
So I think that’s help me.”
Federer was just a set from more history but could Del Potro rebound? He proved to have plenty of ammunition left cracking another forehand winner to squeeze out of trouble for two all. The forehand barrage continued breaking Federer at love for 3-2.
“Big focus every time and good feeling with my forehand I think was the key of the match,” explained del Potro who continued using his biggest weapon to rain on the Federer Express.
One of the match’s highlights included a 21-stroke rally that a hustling Del Potro ended with a running forehand even high-fiving fans. But just when things seemed alright, Federer cameback with a service hold and then broke back for four all. He then held for his third straight game getting within a game of the trophy.
By this point, one thing was noticeable. Del Potro alternated his strategy opting not to go big on the serve instead spinning it in for a higher percentage which Federer surprisingly didn’t adjust on.
It had worked all set but a tight Del Potro ran into deep trouble losing two of the first three points in the critical 10th game to stay in the match. Only a couple of points from losing, he stepped it up big time taking the final three including a 131 mph ace along with a lethal winner for five all. That kind of guts allowed him to believe he could beat a player for the first time in seven tries.
“It was so difficult to keep trying to keep fighting. But one more time the crowd and the fans helped me a lot to fight until last point. I think I have to say thank you to everyone for that,” an appreciative del Potro said after winning his favorite slam he dreamed of winning as a kid.
The set would go to a breaker where once again, the younger player was a little better. Using a Federer double, he carried through forcing two errors to take it 7-4, forcing a deciding set for all the marbles. The first time that had occurred since 1999 when Andre Agassi defeated Todd Martin.
“Well, if I lose the fourth set tiebreak I lose the match. I did unbelievable points. I was focused every time trying to think on the point, and that’s it,” noted del Potro after finishing with one more winner (57-56) and two fewer errors (60-62) in a closely fought final that saw him hold an eight point edge in total points (180-172).
Who had more left? Surprisingly, it was the youngster who played a superior set breaking Federer in the second game with another forehand pass pumping his fists.
Federer tried to comeback but a determined Del Potro fought off break chances to jump out to a 3-0 lead. One of the reasons he prevailed was how tough he was at crucial moments saving 17 of 22 break points while converting five of 15.
“Not a whole a lot. I just thought he was more consistent throughout. You know, I mean, he played pretty much the same,” said Federer on the difference.
A weary Federer misfired from the baseline committing 15 of 62 unforced errors in a set similar to the one he played against Nadal at the beginning of the year in Australia. Meanwhile, a confident Del Potro continued to apply pressure dictating points with his huge groundstrokes. Somehow, he was deadly accurate only giving away four points by comparison.
When he easily held for 5-2, the crowd sensed what was about to happen. A changing of the guard was taking place. For five years, Federer had owned the place never even needing a final set to defeat five different players off an impressive list that included Lleyton Hewitt (2004-straights, 2 bagels), Andre Agassi (2005-4 sets), Andy Roddick (2006-4 sets), Djokovic (2007-straights) and Andy Murray (2008-straights). Before tonight, he’d dropped just two sets during that incredible run.
“Maybe I look back and have some regrets about it,” said Federer who kept it in proper perspective realizing how special it’s been. “But, you know, you can’t have them all and can’t always play your best.”
Of course, the great champ didn’t go down without a fight saving two championship points in the eighth game. But his 11th double prevented him from holding to at least force Del Potro to serve for it. Following an errant Federer forehand, Del Potro went for the kill ripping a deep forehand which even one of the greatest defenders couldn’t keep in sending a backhand prayer long to finally hand the championship over.
A stunned Del Potro dropped to the ground on his back in disbelief. He’d just done something no one else had beating both Nadal and Federer to win his first ever career slam.
“Well, when I lay down to the floor, many things come to my mind. First my family and my friends and everything. I don’t know how I can explain, because it’s my dream. My dream done. It’s over. I will go home with a trophy, and it’s my best sensation ever in my life,” a thrilled Del Potro stated.
“Yeah, I mean, this one I think is easy to get over just because I’ve had the most amazing summer,” Federer added after seeing his 40-match Open win streak halted.
“I tried everything, you know. Didn’t work. I missed chances. He played well and in the end it was a tough fifth set. It’s acceptable. But life goes on. No problem.”
For Del Potro who turns 21 September 23, this was the icing on the cake. Well, cheesecake since that’s what he hinted he’d have later in eight days.
“Yeah, of course. Beat Roger for first time here in my favorite Grand Slam, and two sets to one down, everything, I think it’s the best final ever in my life, of course.”
What could be better than to rule New York? He’s on top of the world.