This year’s U.S. Open final has an unexpected matchup.
That Roger Federer is in the contest is no surprise. His opponent, Juan Martin del Potro, caught most of the tennis world somewhat off guard.
Make no mistake, Delpo, ranked No. 6 in the world, went into the USO as one of the few men to really be expected to have a legitimate chance at holding the champion’s trophy at the end of the fortnight.
The betting world seems to be very sold on Juan; he began the tournament as 11/1 shot at winning and now it has reduced to 6/1.
Federer, meanwhile, has gone from a betting choice (6/5) to the prohibitive the favorite, at 8/13.
If del Potro were to win, he would become only the second South American champion at the USO in tournament history. Guillermo Vilas won the title in 1977, when the championships were still held on clay.
Will Win If. . .
It is important to remember that the gulf between del Potro and Federer is greater than the betting odds could ever portray. Federer has won 15 Grand Slam titles, and Delpo has not won any. Federer, 28, is the oldest member of the top 10, Juan Matin (20) is the youngest.
This is a significant gulf to fjord, especially given the clutch ability of Fed.
The only chance the Argentine has is if his punishing attack keeps Federer off balance, while Delpo is able to continue landing his quick-strike attack from the baseline (33 winners in the semis versus Rafael Nadal). He simply must win easy points on serve.
On those occasions that Juan Martin comes to net, where he typically does well, he must win points quickly and efficiently, one tall order against Roger, who loves playing target practice with net rushers.
In short, del Potro needs to continue playing above his head if he wants to have a chance.
“I played a great match,” Delpo said after the 2-2-2 dismantling of Nadal. “I was so focused with my serve, with every break point, playing serve, trying to put the ball into the court and trying to be aggressive.
“I saw Rafa on the baseline, but too far away on the baseline. That’s important for me to come to the net and to do a short point. I served very well in important moments. I was confident with my forehand, and that’s two parts of my game that are very important to be in good shape. Today I played unbelievable, and that was the key.”
If JMdP is waiting for Fed to camp out deep behind the baseline, he might as well forfeit the match right now...
It will help the long South American greatly if Federer gives him a lot of second serves to work with; del Potro’s ability to punish a slower serve is highly underrated.
Will Lose If. . .
Just about anything else happens.
Roger Federer at his best is better than anyone else in the world right now; even when he is off his game, he is better than anyone else not named Nadal. His is a prominent name in the GOAT discussion for good reason.
Anything Delpo can do, Federer can do better. Fed’s serve is one of the most remarkable weapons in the history of men’s tennis, even though del Potro generates better velocity. Fed is likely the best active player at net (Tsonga being his only peer). No one can win at the baseline from either wing quite as well as Roger (though Delpo is second).
In other words, there is nothing the massive Argentine can do that will rattle the current world No. 1; rather, JM must hope that Roger is off his game for some reason, any reason, while maintaining an extremely high level of his own.
If that sounds like I am pessimistic about del Potro’s chances, it’s because I am. Just because this is a Creature vs. Creature doesn’t mean that I have to be blind or foolish.
Juan Martin will have absolutely zero pressure on him tomorrow, which will accentuate his opportunity to hit freely and take chances. If he shows a propensity to keep his ground strokes deep and come into net aggressively, he might spring the upset.
Do not expect Federer to feel anxious at any time for the rest of his career. He already has 15 Slam titles; does anybody really expect him to ever feel pressure again, except in Davis Cup, perhaps?
“I’ve won already two slams this year,” he said before the Open. “That takes away pressure from maybe having to do well here, like the feeling I had last year, not having won a slam last year, trying to get the first one.
“Last year I felt like I had to win. It would have been disappointing not to have won a slam last year, not having defended my title from the year before. This year is different. I feel like I'm playing great. That gives me obviously a lot of confidence and relaxes my mind.”
Shot to Look For
Federer’s ground strokes. He is 6-0 against Delpo for a reason; the Argentine’s stature (6’6” tall) obviously makes him vulnerable to balls that dip low and bite. He is perfect for Nadal’s topspin balls, which sit up in his wheelhouse; logically, that would leave him more vulnerable to low shots.
Meanwhile, Juan Martin needs for his serve to dictate points. He needs a high percentage of first-serves to land in, and he does not need to take much pace off his second serve. And he needs to come in behind his serve more often, in order to keep pressure on the Federer ground strokes.
I know, I know, that leaves him ripe for Fed’s passes at net; I’m just telling you what needs to happen, not that it will be easy or automatically productive.
Fed in four. If del Potro is able to pull it off, it pretty much has to be 7-5 in the fifth. I cannot see Juan Martin beating Roger in a winner-takes-all fifth set ‘breaker.