Federer d. del Potro, 3-6 6-7(4) 6-2 6-0 6-3
Well, this match took a few days off my life.
First things first. DelPo started out strong and he took advantage of the gaps in Fed’s game. Fed did not burst out of the gates, as he usually does against DelPo. The big man had wonderful depth of shots—his return-of-serves kept Fed on defense and prevented him from approaching the net with frequency.
DelPo broke Fed’s serve 3 times in the first set (after going 1/17 on BPs in their four previous encounters), to take a 6-3 lead. That alone was a *big* small step.
One of the highlights from the first half of the match was watching the improvements in DelPo’s transition game. His defense was on-song and he dealt well with Fed’s attempts to hit through him. The 2nd set was heartening to watch, for this very reason. Although DelPo gave away an early break on a DF, he stuck to his aggressive game plan to break back. He wasn’t as prone to the occasionally passive patches of play that he’d shown in his R4 match against Berdy. Even if an all-out game plan means the rise of UFEs and the shanking of balls into a pro-Fed crowd, it clearly was the right approach. Though DelPo started mistiming his FHs and hitting UFEs, he quickly corrected that by playing with more spin, while still achieving depth.
The TB in the 2nd set was a nice display of his grit and aggression. Though he went down a mini-break, he didn’t waver and he continued to keep Fed scrambling. Gonzo may have had a more beastly FH by nature, but there’s something about the clean, unassuming strength of DelPo’s that captivates—at his best, it’s a cracking wallop that’s delivered with pinpoint accuracy—yet he looks cool and unaffected, even after he hits it. In an interview with Herve di Rosa, the artist who designed the 2012 Roland Garros poster, di Rosa said the animated tennis ball in his poster “is semi-happy and semi-angry. If I were slapped all day, I might not necessarily smile.” That’s how it felt when DelPo was striking the ball—even as doubt crept in, even as I wondered if he could maintain this level, I was awed.
This QF gave context to the much-maligned 2012 Roland Garros poster. DelPo’s FHs may induce boggle-eye and lip-swelling in the official Babolat balls.
The hard-hitting also caused a rare temperamental outburst from Fed. A spectator called “Out” during a crucial point in the TB, which may have caught Fed off guard. DelPo had 2 SPs and Fed was understandably displeased. He yelled “Shut Up!” to the crowd.
In a case of life imitating art, Fed approximates the fury of the tennis balls in the artsy RG poster above. It’s that je nai se quoi that keeps the RG crowd on his side!
Whether it was the knee pain he’d been having since Rome, fatigue, or the emotional task of facing a now fired-up Fed, DelPo’s form dropped markedly from the 3rd set onward. This coincided with Fed’s improved form—Fed was hitting more dropshots and chips. Yet DelPo was also not running for shots that he’d earlier been able to reach.
Sadly, a deja vu feeling passed over the court, even as DelPo maintained a 2 sets to 1 lead. He was moving sluggishly and his serving declined–in the 3rd and 4th sets, DelPo won only 30% and 11% of points off his 2nd serve. The match started to resemble their previous 4 encounters. Meanwhile, DelPo took pills for his knee while Fed’s level of play continued to rise–Fed had played some uncharacteristically indecisive shots earlier (it was startling in its timidity)–but DelPo could not take the opening to break when needed.
Towards the end of the 4th set, DelPo was asking for the trainer to be called at the end of the set. He was already down a double break, so a fifth set seemed all but inevitable. The trainer stepped out to refasten the taping on his knee.
Was DelPo saving his energy for a shootout in the decider? He probably decided that was for the best, and I can’t disagree. Despite ultimately losing 3-6, DelPo did have his chances to break early in the 5th set. The first point DelPo won off Fed’s serve showed he wanted to go all out, guns blazing. There was a half-renewed feeling of hope until the very end, when there wasn’t anymore—a net cord at 40-30 gave Fed the match. Despite DelPo’s drop in form after the 2nd set, the match was lost on a not-unfine margin.
So Fed came from two sets down and he served out the match. DelPo seemed gruffer than usual at the post-match handshake—I take this as a positive sign. He would have done himself a disfavor by conceding this loss so easily and being all-smiles.
This match had its share of plot twists, but it doesn’t seem catastrophic that he lost a match from two sets up. Given the circumstances, it could even be a rite-of-passage of sorts, a way for him to motivate himself against the top 5 in the future. Let’s also not forget that the list of great players who’ve lost matches from 2-sets-up includes Federer, Nadal, Sampras, Lendl, Vilas, Connors, Agassi, and more. There’s no reason to think this match will mark DelPo or automatically doom him in future Grand Slam events.
Quotes from the presser:
Fed complimented DelPo for fighting through the match, despite not being 100%. “He fought like a hero,” said Fed of DelPo (source). Fed said he knew the chances of winning tilted in his favor, the longer the match went.
Meanwhile, DelPo looked as well as you might expect from someone who’d lost a match after being two sets up:
Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) June 05, 2012
Still, DelPo gave a gracious presser, even as he looked like he wanted to wall himself off. Despite constant baiting from journos, he stuck firmly to the line that his inability to maintain a strong serve was his undoing, and he credited Fed for the win. When asked about his knee, he downplayed the pills he had to take, by saying “I don’t take magic pills to win the match.” He didn’t play the passive-aggressive, “I-wasn’t-injured-but-my-XYZ-was-bothering-me” game. He sounds level-headed in what he has to work on in the future. Although DelPo is not one of the more “quotable” tennis players, his pressers are a nice glimpse into how he assesses his own performances.
From here, DelPo will decide whether or not to play the grass tourny in Queens next week. Despite his public statements, his knee is clearly a visible issue–he would benefit from resting it. Yet he’s still ranked no. 9 (only 20 points behind Tipsy) and the lure of a top 8 seeding at Wimby is tough to reject. Personally, I think it’d be better if he skipped Queens and only played the Boodles exho—even if it meant playing as a no. 9 seed at Wimby.