It's one set apiece. Nine games each. As night fell at Roland Garros, 25th seed Juan Martin Del Potro had battled favorite Djokovic to a 3-6, 6-3 draw. In the process he's set himself up for the biggest upset of the year.
There are several reasons why Del Potro will beat Djokovic once play resumes at the French Open.
For one, Del Potro is far better than his 25th seeding. As the ESPN crew repeated over and over, when Del Potro is finally fully healthy, the big hitting Argentine should quickly return to the top five in the world and probably higher (the way he's playing he's looking like he's ahead of schedule).
Del Potro has the all court game that can give opponents fits. He hits with power but also moves surprisingly well for a guy 6'6". More importantly for this tournament, Del Potro is comfortable on clay. Growing up in Argentina, clay is his natural surface. While his big-hitting game is more built for hard courts, unlike other big hitters who can't wait for Wimbledon and the summer season, Del Potro isn't afraid of the dirt.
In fact, he's had considerable success on the red clay here in Paris. In 2009, Del Potro beat Tsonga and clay court specialist Robredo on the way to the semifinals, proving that not only does he like the big stage, he doesn't get phased by it either.
Again today, Del Potro proved there is more to his game than a big serve and forehand. Against Djokovic, Del Potro came out guns blazing bludgeoning groundstrokes and hitting ferocious first serves up the middle. Rather than blow Djokovic off the court, the two seed calmly took his opponent's pace and used it against him.
In such situations when an opponent seems unflappable, a player will often self destruct. After giving Djokovic his best effort and still losing the first set, it looked like Djokovic would breeze through on his way to his 42nd—and record tying—straight win.
Not so fast. Instead of losing his cool and succumbing to a sense of hopelessness, Del Potro calmly switched tactics. He took pace off the ball, put more air under it and started hitting down the middle thus limiting Djokovic's angles. On his serve too he started using more body serves to jam Djokovic.
The change paid off. Before long it was Djokovic who was noticeably agitated. Towards the end of the set Djokovic feigned throwing his racket. At other points during the match you could see Djokovic muttering in frustration confounded both by the dazzling shots his opponent was making and his own unforced errors.
The more irritated Djokovic became the more comfortable Del Potro grew. In short, Del Potro has done what no other player has managed so far this year: he flustered Djokovic.
Besides his mental acumen and ability to adjust his game plan on the fly, Del Potro has one other aspect in his favor. The French Open's scheduling screwup, which caused the match to go on late and thus force the two to finish tomorrow, provides Del Potro with a crucial break.
Still not 100 percent physically fit, Del Potro can use the time to rest and recover. Currently one of the fittest players on tour, Djokovic no longer has the luxury of wearing down Del Potro by extending the match . Furthermore the night off allows Del Potro's confidence to swell and for he and his coaches to refine his game plan even further.
It won't be easy and it seems likely that the match will go the distance, but given Del Potro's big game and fortuitous luck, don't be surprised if Djokovic falls one match short of tying McEnroe's consecutive match win streak.
Del Potro in five.