In his biggest win since the 2009 US Open, Juan Martin del Potro beat Roger Federer 64, 67(8), 76(1) to win his first career Masters title at Indian Wells.
Del Potro, who also beat Federer in their last U.S. event together at the U.S., was 0-3 in Masters finals and facing Federer who had won 17 straight matches, 10 in a row at Indian Wells.
Del Potro had to save three match points with Federer serving 5-4 in the third. Then roared back and took the breaker for his 22nd career title. He also moved up No. 6 in the rankings and more importantly, sent the message that after nearly retiring from the game years ago, he’s really back.
He also held a match point in the second set tiebreaker sent an easy forehand into the net.
After, the 29-year-old met the media.
Q. Congratulations, Juan. Talk a little bit about the emotions out there. Obviously a very tense match, especially in that second set. Talk about how you hung in there and how you dealt with the emotions.
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I think it was an unbelievable match in all the ways. I mean, we played a great level of tennis. The people were exciting on every single point.
Roger and me were nervous during the whole match, and we felt that on court. And that’s what I talk too much with the umpire, because in the important moments he was taking important decisions who could change the way of the match, but I think he did well and it was more personal reason than what he does.
But in the finals, you know, you must be playing in all the ways, not just tennis. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay calm in the tiebreak of the second set, but then the calms come again in the end of the match and I play good in the tiebreak.
Q. What were you telling yourself when you were 40-15 up at 5-4 in the third set?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, it was horrible moment for me. I was still thinking about my forehand miss and my forehand error, mistake in the match point. And, I mean, it’s my shot, you know, my forehand from that side of the court. I never miss that forehand (smiling).
It was a lot of frustration after that match point, but then I play well. All his match points, hitting hard my forehand. I took my chance to break back. And then in the tiebreak he made two double faults, easy mistakes, and I took the last chance to win title.
Q. You have a very good record against him in finals. You’re 4-2 against him compared to your head-to-head. How do you explain the fact that you’re able to get the better of him more often in finals?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I like to play finals against him, because nobody has nothing to lose.
But also, he put the — I mean, the line too high for play that match, but I always play good against him. I won a couple of finals, I lost finals, also.
But I like to play against him, and I enjoy a lot the crowd, the atmosphere, what’s the feelings on that court when he cames and play finals.
Of course when you have nothing to lose, your game improve a little bit. But then when you have the chance to win, you make the mistake with the forehand (smiling).
But in the end, I was lucky and I could win.
Q. What does it mean to you to finally win a Masters 1000 tournament, and is it the biggest of course since US Open for you?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, it’s so big. I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis. We played great tennis today.
I’m No. 6 in the world, I think? Which is so good to me. And I’m excited to keep working. I’m not expecting — I not expect to go up in the ranking. I don’t care about the numbers. I just want to keep winning title like this if I can.
But the first thing is try to be healthy during the whole year and play where I like to play. Now I have to do a smart schedule on clay to feel 100% for the rest of the season.
Q. So you have bad surgery after bad surgery after bad surgery. After the fourth surgery, if someone said, Don’t worry, you’ll win a Masters over Roger, you’ll come back and be No. 6, what would you say?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Of course no (smiling). No, I couldn’t imagine this moment. I mean, everybody knows I was really close to quit tennis before my third surgery on my left wrist.
And after that, I made a big effort to come back and play tennis with the slice. Then with my backhand, it wasn’t good to play at this level.
But then during the Olympics game, after the Djokovic match, my tennis life change again. I took a good way to feel happy again with tennis life. I won the Davis Cup and I say, Okay, I don’t have any more pressure to play tennis because I won everything what I wanted except Masters 1000 (smiling), but today I did.
So I just — I have everything what I want, and I want to keep improving my game to see what can I do?
Q. Do you allow yourself to have really big goals in this sport after everything you’ve been through? Or are you, like you said, just want to improve and enjoy it?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: But is true I’m really enjoying playing tennis again. That’s the only thing what I can say.
I mean, I had very bad moments few years ago, and I don’t want to think about that anymore. I just enjoying this life, playing around the world. Many fans give me too much love on court, off court, as well. This is what I miss when I was injured, you know.
And now I’m excited to see what next, you know. I’m still surprising myself, and I want to keep surprising the tennis tour, you know.
Q. Yeah, but I mean, you don’t tell yourself, Look, I won these things, I’m back on track, I want to go and win, how many slams?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: No, no. To be honest, I’m not thinking about that. I think it’s time to celebrate this, because I made the big effort to win it.
And then be ready for Miami is one of my favorite tournaments on tour. As you know, many Latino-American people are expecting my game there. That make me special, feel special.
But then what I say? I would like to keep surprising myself and see what far I can go.
Q. People talk about having good people around you, and usually that’s the coaches, physios. But who are the other people in your life who are really supporting you and helping you through this journey back?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, friends, family, and of course my team. They are with me every day. They know what I do to play tennis. They know what I like to do when I have time off. And they are always trying to make me happy, with tennis or without tennis, you know.
It’s very important for my life. Before the match I know all my town or my country, my friends, family, they were expecting the match, making barbecues to see the match. You know, it’s very common in Argentina. And I love that.
I have excellent, excellent people around me which make me be like this, you know, and I like to show my tennis to them and celebrate with them.
Q. Now you seem comfortable with hitting backhands with your two hands. But as you said, you used to hit one-hand slice with your backhand. So when did you start getting your confidence back with your two-hand backhand?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: It’s day by day work. I’m confident with my two-handed backhand but not confident enough to play what I like to play.
But the most important improvement what I’m doing is in my returns. I always return with my two-handed backhand. After that, I can take the control of the point. And that is a big change to me, to myself, because I’m not running too much. That’s the big difference between my game at this moment to few years ago.
Q. I know you don’t have much time between now and your next tournament, but you talked about celebrating this. How will you celebrate this trophy?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: I cannot tell you. (Laughter.)
A little bit? It will be Miami, maybe tomorrow, but that’s enough.
Q. The good thing about tennis is that all different players bring different things. Lleyton Hewitt, so feisty. Roger gives us artistry.
But you and before you Guga Kuerten bring such humility to our sport and touch people with that. Can you help us out and tell us where that comes from and how it’s such a gift for you?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I learn this from my parents. When I was young, my parents teach me a lot about the life and the effort you have to do to get what you want.
And Guga was a perfect example to mention. He made a big effort to do what he does, and he’s a great person. Everybody loves Guga and everybody miss Guga on tour. I have a great relationship with him.
I mean, Roger, as well. Everybody loves Roger, Rafa. These guys are making history in our sport.
But in the other, as you mention, Guga, or maybe another, Lleyton or Marat Safin, these guys made to the crowd different feelings, you know. And I think we miss a little bit these kind of guys on tour.
Q. Does your success here, does that confirm in your mind that you’re back to where you usee to be? Do you think you are?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: I don’t know. Maybe I’m in better shape, because few years ago I never win a title like this (pointing to trophy). I don’t know. I’m surprising myself every day.
And I don’t like to compare this time with few years ago, but I’m just enjoying what I have to do every day. And it’s like a surprising life to me, and I’m so happy for that.
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