Monday, September 21, 2015

2009 Article: Del Potro Denies the King of Queens Federer his Sixth Consecutive U.S. Open

Hi guys, this is an old article I wrote after watching the 2009 US Open Men's Final live...thought you'd be interested...

Del Potro Denies the King of Queens Federer his Sixth Consecutive U.S. Open
by Surya Krishnan

Surya Krishnan, a die hard Roger Federer supporter, was a member of the Cornell Men's Varsity Tennis Team, was a USTA nationally ranked junior tennis player, and won the Massachusetts State Singles title in 1999.  He continues to follow the game as an avid fan, spectator, and student.

In a four hour intense epic five set battle, the 20 year old and 6' 6" Argentine Juan Martin del Potro denied the Swiss Roger Federer his sixth consecutive U.S. Open title and handed the King of Queens his first loss at the U.S. Open since 2003, when Federer lost to another Argentine David Nalbandian in the round of 16.  By defeating Federer 3-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2, Del Potro captured his first Grand Slam Title, defeated Federer for the first time in seven tries, and joined his countryman, Guillermo Vilas as the only two Argentines to win the U.S. Open.  Del Potro also became the second player along with Novak Djokovic at the 2008 Australian Open, to win a Grand Slam title in the last 22, which have been dominated by Nadal and Federer.

Federer, who had won 40 consecutive matches at Flushing Meadows was attempting to win six Grand Slam titles at the same tournament, an accomplishment last achieved by Bill Tilden at the U.S Open from 1920-25.  Federer was halted from accomplishing the same thing at last year's Wimbledon where he was defeated by Rafael Nadal in a battle and historic five setter.  All good things, as the cliché goes, come to an end.  So, what does it all mean, to Roger Federer and to tennis fans not all of whom might be Federer fans, and to the game of tennis itself that Federer's U.S. Open reign has ended?  Before we look more deeply into these issues, let us review the finals set by set.

Federer started off the match hot, the way we would expect a 15 time Grand Slam champion to.  He hit a blistering forehand passing shot cross court to break Del Potro in the second game of the match.  Del Potro, in his first Grand Slam final, appeared nervous and overwhelmed by the occasion, and did not have an answer to Federer's game plan.  As the match went on though, Del Potro point by point found his groove and managed to slowly wear down Federer.  In fact, Federer was ahead 6-3, 3-1 and had two breakpoint chances in the 5th game with Del Potro serving, but Del Potro dug deep and somehow held his service game.  Federer was also serving for a two sets to love lead at 6-3, 5-4, when Del Potro finally got some traction and made steps that altered the course of the match.  A major turning point was at 5-4 Deuce, when Del Potro ripped a forehand winner down the line to give him break point, which Federer contested and Hawk eye confirmed to scratch the outer edge of the line.  At break point, Del Potro hit another blistering forehand passing shot down the line to level the set at 5-5.  Del Potro was rejuvenated now that he had broken Federer's momentum and avoided going down a two sets to love deficit.  He carried this energy with him to the tie breaker and leveled the match hitting a forehand winner to win the breaker 7-5.

In the third set, Del Potro continued on his newly found momentum and went up a break at 4-3.  However, the experienced Roger Federer quickly broke back to even the set at 4-4.  Federer saved a break point during the next game to go up 5-4.  During the changeover Del Potro sat with his hands on his heads knowing that he had let some key opportunities slip away and that he might not get any other.  His inexperience on the main stage emerged at 4-5 as he double faulted twice in a row to give the Swiss Federer a two sets to one lead.

Typically, we are used to seeing Federer take the lead in a tight match, and then run away towards a smooth victory.  This happened in the 2006 finals against Andy Roddick where he won the third set 7-5, and then steam rolled through the final set winning 6-1.  Today was no different as Federer held his opening service game and earned two break point chances on Del Potro's serve in the second game of the fourth set.  Del Potro did not yield and managed to claw his way out of that game to hold, hitting huge serves and deadly ground strokes.  Both players continued to hold throughout the set and Federer went up 5-4.  In the next game, Del Potro served down 15-30 and it seemed as if Federer would definitely capture his 16th title, but the young Argentine Del Potro hung tight and did not budge and leveled the set at 5-5.  Things continued to get tighter at 5-5.  Federer went up 40-0, but Del Potro came back to Deuce and even earned two break points before the Swiss held to take a 6-5 lead.  Del Potro held his next game at love taking the match into another tie breaker.  Del Potro captured the tie breaker 7-4 as Federer double faulted the first point away to give his opponent a mini break and witnessed his unforced errors creeping in.

In the fifth set, Del Potro jumped out to a 3-0 lead getting the early break.  Serving at 2-5, 15-40, the veteran Federer played classic tennis saving two Championship points and leaving the crowd to wonder what else he hand in store.  However on this day, the young 20 year old would not be denied and did not let go of his grip on Federer defeating him 6-2 in the final set.  Again losing 6-2 in the fifth set of a major final (the other time being in his loss to Nadal at this year's Australian Open), Federer seemed to slowly vanish away and become more defensive and reactive to Del Potro's crushing game.  The intensity and game plan that he stormed out of the gates with in the first two sets slowly ebbed as his opponent became more confident and kept swinging away, hitting aggressive and penetrative stokes from the baseline.

Federer's Achilles heel in the match was his unconverted break point chances and uncharacteristic low first serve percentage which was 51 percent.  In the past Federer's serve had always bailed him out of close services games when he was in trouble however today it let him down.  In addition, he also threw in 11 double faults.  Federer's break point conversion, which has haunted him in the Gran Slam finals against Nadal was 5 for 22 or 22 percent.  On top of this as the match progressed, Federer became more and more agitated with the Hawk eye and challenge system.  Federer, typically known for his cool temperament and calm demeanor, doesn't believe the challenge system should be allowed in the game, and got mad with the umpire complaining that Del Potro was taking too many seconds to challenge the calls when the players are allowed only a few.  In fact, Federer's exact quote at 6-3, 6-7(5), 5-4 to the umpire was "No no no, come on, I wasn't allowed to challenge after two seconds and the guy takes like 10 seconds.  How can you allow that stuff to happen?  Do you have any rules in there?  Stop showing me the hand, ok?  Don't tell me to be quiet, ok?  When I wanna talk I'll talk.  I don't give a s*** what he said, I'm just saying he waited too long ..."

Del Potro's victory proves that he can hang with the top dogs like Federer, Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic.  By winning the U.S. Open Series this summer and having on outstanding summer last year as well, Del Potro has proved that he is no is not a flash in the pan, not a fluke phenomenon. It is no surprise why all the commentators and analysts have raved about his game and marked him as the new comer to win many Grand Slams.  Del Potro had been demolished by Federer in the quarters of this year's Australian Open earning only a few games and had a tight five setter in the semifinals of Roland Garros losing 6-4 in the fifth set, but by defeating Roger, it shows how he has matured as a player this year and how he can perform not in just the smaller events, but the larger ones that count even more.  More impressive was that he was able to come back from down a set and a break to Cilic (who beat Murray in the previous round) in the quarters, blast through Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and finally conquer the invincible Federer.  As Federer told him when they shook hands, "You deserve this."  In addition, by winning the U.S. Open title, Del Potro has also solidified his spot in the year end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, U.K.

Disappointed as he must be, Federer has still had a terrific turn around year and memorable summer.  He started off very slowly losing the Australian Open to Nadal and crying during the trophy ceremony.  His losses to Murray, and his uncharacteristic smashing of the racquet and remark in Miami earlier this year after losing to Djokovic, "thank God the hard court season is over" made everyone question him and wonder if he reign had ended.  But then came his marriage to Mirka Vavrinec, his victory over Nadal in Madrid 6-4, 6-4, his capture of the elusive French Open and along with it the career Grand Slam, the birth of his twin daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva in July, and finally, one more Wimbledon triumph for a sixth time and the breaking Pete Sampras' 14 Grand Slam record when he defeated Andy Roddick in a grueling and gut wrenching match 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 3-6, 16-14.  All of these magnificent achievements re-coronate him as Numero Uno: not a bad year even by Federer's own exacting standards.  Could even Federer, short of perfection, ask for more?

- For comments or inquiries please contact Surya Krishnan at

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