Doing the impossible, doing what’s never been done before in a Grand Slam event is what stands before Juan Martin Del Potro. Today, the menacing but gentle 6-foot-6 Argentine will try to make history by becoming the first player to ever beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the same Grand Slam.
In the men’s final, which begins at 4pm on CBS, Del Potro will try to complete his incredible summer of fun by defeating Federer for his first career Grand Slam title.
Yesterday, Del Potro simply destroyed Nadal handing the Spaniard his worst career beating ever at a Grand Slam (Rafa won a career-low six games in a Major). The result wasn’t a huge surprise given DelPo’s level of play and the odds that Nadal’s been battling, but the composure and focus the Argy showed sent a message (at least to me) that the big guy is really ready to take that next step.
But the guy on the other side of the net today is also of sound mind, body and being. And he’s at home. Federer’s won 40 straight matches at the US Open, 20 straight in Grand Slam play and he’s been at his near-dominant self again these two weeks in New York.
Federer still has had some bumps en route to the finals. He didn’t look superb in early round wins over Devin Britton or Simon Greul and he nearly went to a fifth against Robin, but the Swiss really picked up his play and regained some of the Federer Magic in a convincing win yesterday over Novak Djokovic (the “tweener” shot he hit against Novak to set up match point was one of the truly great points of all time!).
And Roger will likely need to maintain that high level if he wants that 16th career Grand Slam because I think Del Potro’s going to show up today and play good tennis.
Head-to-head Federer has won all six career meetings against DelPo. In their first five contests Federer went 12-0 in sets, but in the French Open semifinals it was DelPo breaking through, gaining the upper hand on arguably not his best surface (clay) to lead a pressured Fed 2-1 in sets before letting it slip away.
But the match today I think is on a more favorable surface for DelPo. Problem is that a fast hardcourt also suits Federer.
That said, here’s my breakdown of the final.
I give a slight edge here to Federer. DelPo’s got the bigger serve his delivery has more “upside”. But Federer serve has stood up to the test of time and to pressure situations as we saw at Wimbledon. For DelPo the serve is more important. Fed’s been serving in the 50% this event and he can get by with that same number today. But if DelPo serves poorly he’s in for a long afternoon.
Advantage: Del Potro
I like Del Potro here. If Federer fails to properly place his second serve I think Del Potro can jump all over it. And we know Federer rarely takes full cuts on his service return usually opting for the slice chip to just get the ball back in play.
Federer’s forehand is still among the best in the game and generally better than DelPo’s but we again some a few misfires yesterday and if DelPo gets hot, he can smack that flat ball of his all around the court.
Advantage: Del Potro
DelPo backhand’s is fast becoming one of the top shots in the game. The guy hits it harder off that wing than anyone in the game right now while Federer’s is still very mistake-prone
Advantage: Del Potro
Part of Nadal’s problem with Del Potro is that the high amount of spin he puts on the ball lands right into DelPo’s strike zone on both sides, forehand and backhand. Federer also puts a ton of his action on his ball and while his ball won’t jump quite like Rafa’s, I can see many shots landing right where DelPo wants it. I also think DelPo will be a little more consistent off the ground so I give a small edge to the Argentine here. However, Del Potro’s flat, powerful strokes shouldn’t trouble Fed much, unless Fed is dropping his ball short allowing JMDP to pounce!
DelPo’s is fast improving in this are, but Federer’s still far superior. Plus Fed’s added that drop shot to go along with the “chip and dip” backhand slice both of which I’m sure he’ll use today to bring DelPo into the net, especially if Roger is being pushed off the ground.
Federer has 15 Slams and his sixth straight US Open final. For Federer playing in these title matches is becoming old hat. Not so for DelPo who’s making his Grand Slam final debut. As I said, I think DelPo will be able to handle the moment but this is the biggest match of his career and nerves will surely be a factor.
For me this final falls on Federer’s racquet. If he’s on his game he’ll be able to handle DelPo’s serve and pace – remember how infrequently big servers actually out ace Federer! Mentally and physically Federer should be sharp and well-rested and I think the same for Del Potro. But I think the pressure and the moment will eventually get to Del Potro.
I had Federer to beat Del Potro at the start of the tournament, and while I’d love to see the upset happen, I’m sticking with my initial pick and taking Roger in four sets today. It’s so hard to win in your first major appearance and I think that will weight just enough on DelPo for Fed to slip by.
Let’s just hope for a good, competitive match. We haven’t had a lot of drama in the US Open final for quite some time. Maybe today’s the day.
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