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Juan Martin del Potro def Roger Federer 75 36 76(8) 64
Perhaps coming into the net is not the best strategy against Juan Martin del Potro. Entering his mid-30’s, Roger Federer introduced “The SABR” and embraced shortening points at the net, even on service returns. No risk, no reward. It has paid dividends. Always agile with soft hands, Federer makes the aggressive game-plan appear effortless; damn near graceful.
The 5-time US Open Champion won his 18th and 19th Grand Slam Singles titles this year at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, his 8th on hallowed turf. Clearly the “come on in” credo has been effective.
But this – this was Juan Martin del Potro
Sure, Federer had won 16 of their previous 21-matches, but their history was far more delicious than mere numbers could articulate. Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal was a rematch of the 2009 US Open Final; a Juan Martin victory that ended Federer’s 5-year US Open win streak, earning del Potro the distinction of being the first player ever to defeat both Nadal and Federer in the same Slam. Overall, Roger was 5-1 against the towering Argentine at the Majors, but this was the house where Delpo secured the biggest win of his career. Factor in swirling rumors regarding Roger’s back, and apprehension among Federer fans was completely justified.
A set apiece after two
In Wednesday night’s first set, Delpo struck first, earning a timely break at 5-all. Down 30-40, Federer rolled the dice and followed his serve to the net. Juan Martin crushed a forehand pass to earn the break, then served out the set, taking it 7-5. Federer fans nervously shifted in their seats.
In set-2, Roger took control early and was up 4-1 by the second changeover. He comfortably served it out to make the match a best of three. A sigh of relief for the Federer faithful, including broadcasters desperately rooting for the ratings-grab of a Federer vs. Nadal Semifinal.
In the third, all hell broke loose
Federer stumbled early and was down 0-3 by the first sit down. Delpo was dominant. At 2-4, the momentum shifted. Roger was clutch. He broke del Potro to get back on serve. Both held to the tiebreak, where Federer was firmly in control; he just couldn’t put Delpo away. Juan Martin battled, saved four set-points, and finally gained the edge with an artful volley at the net (up 9-8). Serving to stay in the set, Roger rolled the dice again: Snake eyes. The 19-time Grand Slam champ missed a backhand volley, and handed the lead to del Potro. For the second time in the match, the decision to “come in” backfired “bigly.”
The strategy backfired “bigly” again
By set-4, Roger acknowledged the hole in his strategy, but base-lining with the big man – especially when Delpo’s on fire – is never an easy ask. Before the second changeover, Federer was in danger again, down 15-40. The five-time US Open Champion got it to deuce and barked a defiant “COME ON!” Then, at Ad-Delpo, Roger inexplicably tried following his serve to the net again. Juan Martin unleashed an easy forehand pass and secured the break. End of story. At 3-5, Roger mustered a few heroics to come back from a 0-30 hole, but Juan Martin del Potro held-on to serve out the set and the match 6-4.
After the win, Delpo said it was easily his best match of the tournament. His strategy against Federer was simple: Hit the forehand as hard as he could. It was effective. With the victory, Juan Martin earned a spot in his first Grand Slam Semifinal since 2013. He was the first person ever to defeat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same Major. Come Friday, he has earned a chance to do it again.
Roger Federer may not have made broadcasters’ dreams come true on Wednesday, but he’s still enjoyed an amazing run in 2017. He won the Australian Open, skipped Roland Garros, earned his 19th career Slam at Wimbledon, and fell to the legend slayer in Flushing. He started the year ranked outside the top-15, but has pulled himself up, grabbing firm-hold of the World #2 ranking. Next week, he’ll introduce the world to an entirely new competitive concept in tennis called the Laver Cup – a Ryder Cup style event he’s been instrumental in coordinating. The innovator continues to innovate.