Clubbing his forehand with outrageous power, Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina won his first Grand Slam title last night with a 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final.
The angular Argentine looked to be out of the match as Federer won the first set and then served for the second at 5-4. But the del Potro forehand began to find its range. He broke serve and went on to take the ensuing tiebreak.
In the third set, the match was truly joined as del Potro broke serve to lead 4-3, only to have Federer level the match at 4-4 with a break in the following game.
The crowd, sensing that del Potro was capable of upsetting the five-time defending champion, became increasingly rowdy and edgy. So did the players.
During the changeover after he held serve to go ahead 5-4, an irritable Federer began to jaw with umpire Jake Garner about del Potro having taken too long to challenge a line call.
"Do you have any rules in there," Federer said to Garner.
Then, when the American umpire made a gesture toward him, Federer hotly retorted: "Stop showing me your hand, don't tell me to be quiet. When I want to talk, I'll talk."
Returning to the discussion about how slow del Potro had been to make his challenge, Federer insisted: "I say he took way too long."
The set came to an ominous conclusion for del Potro as he double faulted twice in a row to hand it to Federer 6-4.
In the fourth set, the Argentine broke first, but Federer followed with a break of his own and it was decided by another tiebreak, won again by del Potro, who took a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
Sadly for Federer, the fifth set resembled the fifth set of his loss to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open in February. He seemed to fall away, a victim to nerves and del Potro's weighty onslaught. And he lost it by the same score, 6-2.
Del Potro, who turns 21 next week, fell flat on his back when Federer's final shot, a desperation backhand, floated long.
He was soon in tears, overcome by the victory over a man widely viewed as the greatest player in history.
"I've had two dreams, part one is the U.S. Open and the other is to be like Roger," he said to Federer as he stood beside him during the presentation ceremony.
Del Potro became, at 6 foot 6, the tallest man to win a Grand Slam title and the second Argentine to win the U.S. Open since Guillermo Vilas in 1977. Federer may have had a false sense of security over most of the first two sets as del Potro appeared unsure and overawed by the occasion. But the match swung, much like the Argentine's quarter-final against Marin Cilic last Thursday. In that one, a lethargic del Potro trailed by a set and 1-3 before rallying, thumping Cilic the rest of the way to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.
The forehand of the world No.5 is hit so hard - regularly more than 100 miles an hour - and flat that it almost seems as if it could drill holes in the hard court. It had Federer looking eerily overmatched by the end of the more than four-hour final.
"I would like to congratulate Juan Martin for an unbelievable tournament," Federer said. "Of course, I would like to have won, but I've had an unbelievable run here. I would never have thought, five or six years ago, that I was going to win 40 matches in a row here."
Federer's drive for a sixth consecutive U.S. Open title was ended by del Potro, much as Rafael Nadal ended his try for six in a row at Wimbledon in 2008.
The 2009 Federer spring hard-court season, which ended in April with a memorable angry racquet smash in Miami during a loss to Novak Djokovic and a red-eyed postmatch media conference afterward, evolved into a charmed run in Europe as he won his first French Open title, and then No.6 at Wimbledon on the grass courts.
Then he and his wife Mirka welcomed the birth of twin daughters Charlene and Myla on July 23. He had hoped, at 28, that the U.S. Open would be his first triumph as a father, but that dream will have to wait, lost in the grand ambitions of a mighty giant named Juan Martin del Potro.