Just look at his face — tremendous joy and relief.
DelPo breaks a 4-match losing streak to Ferru to reach his first SF at Wimbledon. He defeated Ferru in straight sets, 6-2 6-4 7-6(5).
This marks DelPo’s first Slam SF since his USO win in 2009. This is arguably his greatest result on grass court, up there with his Olympic bronze medal last year. He’s now reached the SF at 3 of the 4 Slams (the AO is still missing from his list) and he is only the third Argentine to make it past the QF at Wimbledon (joining the likes of Nalbandian and Sabatini, who both went one step farther to reach the final).
More than anything else, it’s a great result after the struggles DelPo has faced earlier this year, with the two-month break he had to take because of the virus. Reaching the SF is also an achievement that’s been well on its way, given his extraordinary consistency in 2011-2012, and his strong showing in the early part of 2013. He had a chance and he took it. He’s reached the SF at Wimbledon this year without losing a set.
The circumstances under which he won the match makes it special. DelPo showed plenty of heart and courage to tough out this win in unusual circumstances. This explains the tears he showed during the match and afterwards as well.
Battle of the Walking Wounded:
An hour before the match, Ferru cut short his pre-match warmup session to consult a doctor for his injured ankle (he’d been playing on an injured ankle for most of the week). Given Ferru’s injured ankle and DelPo’s injured knee, this was billed as the match of the walking wounded.
Nonetheless, both players showed on Center Court for a chance to reach their first Wimbledon SF. In front of a crowd that included Rod Laver (who was seen langorously applying sunscreen to his face) and Sir Alex Ferguson, Ferru started the match by serving. That’s when DelPo fell down hard in Ferru’s opening service game. DelPo had 2 BPs on Ferru’s serve, but DelPo fell down after he lunged for a shot. He ended up hyperextending the same left knee he had injured in his R3 match against Levine:
This fall looked much worse than his earlier fall in R3 — his knee bent back in the same way and his ankle rolled. DelPo was down and he was obviously in a lot of pain. The trainer and officials immediately attended to DelPo and all signs looked like he was going to retire. When he got up, I honestly thought he was heading to the net to shake hands. Instead, he sat down on his chair and took an MTO, and as luck would have it, he was attended to by an Argentinean kinesthesiologist. The kinesthesiologist advised DelPo to play 1-2 games to test his condition. DelPo also took anti-flammatory pills from the trainer. For an excruciating few minutes, TV showed DelPo with his head in his hands and tears in his eyes. Franco and Martiniano looked distressed as they watched from the sidelines. Even DelPo’s gruff agent, Ugo Colombini, had deeply furrowed brows.
DelPo gingerly made his way back onto court to resume play. While he still had BP on Ferru’s opening service game, Ferru seemed a lot more aggressive after DelPo’s fall. This is completely natural, as the law of the competitive jungle says the best time to step on your opponent’s neck is when they’re slightly immobilized. Ferru held and DelPo next faced the task of holding his serve. The general consensus on Twitter was that if DelPo was broken and he lost the 1st set, he would retire from the match.
At the start, Ferru seemed intent to test DelPo’s movement. DelPo was unable to run after balls he would normally chase after, so it seemed Ferru would gain the upper hand by exploiting DelPo’s challenged movement. However, DelPo brought out strong serves to hold. He would then hit a beautifully angled FH winner to break Ferru’s serve to take a 2*-1 lead in the 1st set. Perhaps the early lead gave DelPo the confidence he needed to play through this match, as he consolidated the break with an ace to go up 3-1*.
It has to be said, that while DelPo was clearly struggling with his movement due to the painful knee, Ferru was also not at 100%. Ferru’s ankle injury had bothered him all week, which may account for some of the unusual errors he made on his own serve. In my opinion, Ferru also didn’t take full advantage of DelPo’s mobility issues. Instead of running DelPo around the court, he seemed content to play straight to DelPo and engage in long rallies. Perhaps due to his injured knee, DelPo showed more intent on going for aggressive winners and hitting with depth and pace. As a result, DelPo emerged the winner in many of these rallies. When Ferru hit 2 loose errors to face 2 BPs, DelPo stepped in and took the double break for a 5*-2 lead.
DelPo had said in his pre-match interviews that the only way to beat Ferru was to be super-aggressive. He hasn’t always played quite aggressively against Ferru (2012 Miami, 2012 Wimbledon and 2012 WTF RR are matches where I felt DelPo could have used different tactics to emerge on top). Perhaps the knee injury properly forced him into this attacking mindset. DelPo showed nervous signs when he was serving for the 1st set. He had to fend off 2 BPs, one of which he saved with a beautifully flat FH winner. He took the first set, 6-2.
DelPo’s FH deserves so much credit for this win, as he rifled it past his opponent and hit it comfortably from anywhere on the court. Although he often reached 15-30 or 0-30 on Ferru’s serve, he was unable to break until 4-4, when he hit a sharp return of serve that would give him the break for 5*-4. Unlike the first set, DelPo had no trouble serving it out this time. He now had a two-set lead over 4th seed Ferru.
In the 3rd set, Ferru grew more comfortable with his game and he used his BHDTL to catch DelPo out of place. DelPo wasn’t making inroads as easily onto the Ferru serve, while his own 1st serve % started to fall a bit. The 3rd set went to a TB, which turned out to be a mini-drama fest of its own. DelPo went up a double mini-break to serve at 4*-1, only for Ferru to recoup both of them with some fine shotmaking. Back at 4-4, DelPo went up another MB when he hit a return-of-serve right to Ferru’s feet. However, DelPo’s lack of a first serve hurt him again, as Ferru immediately recouped that minibreak (that was the 3rd minibreak they traded back and forth).
DelPo saved his finest tennis for the last two points in the 3rd set TB. He hit this ridiculous running CC FH that curved just inside the line. He had MP on Ferru’s serve. After an impressive rally, DelPo followed up that ridiculously good FH with the most casually flicked around-the-net running FH. He won the match. It was swoonworthy tennis and an explosive end to a toughly fought match. Here is a clip of the match-winning point:
The Tower of Tandil won the match and he promptly fell onto his back in a moment of pure, unadulterated glee.
I love the dazed expression on his face, like a kid who’s just walked into a water park.
It was a delight to watch, as the crowd cheered on the victor who had overcome a very tough early challenge. Ferru, to his credit, was the picture of sportsmanship, as he rubbed DelPo’s tummy at the net and congratulated him:
DelPo will next face Djokovic, who has also reached the SF without dropping a set, which marks the first time in the open era where a Wimbledon SF features two players who have not lost a set.
DelPo defeated Djokovic in straight sets to win the Olympic bronze medal at the London Olympics (on grass) last year. However, Djokovic won their latest encounter at a Slam, at the USO QF, which was a very competitive and high-quality match that Djokovic still won in straight sets.
In a slightly encouraging sign, DelPo’s serve has not been broken in his last 3 matches. So far at Wimbledon, he has averaged 69% first serves and has won 81% of the first serve points.
Meeting top seed Djokovic in the SF of a Slam is a new challenge, but DelPo can take haert from their last meeting, when he beat Djokovic in 3 sets at the Indian Wells SF. DelPo says his knee is fine — so far, there haven’t been any reports of serious ligament damage.
Post-match presser & Quotes:
- ESPN Interview: DelPo sat down with ESPN to discuss his match. He said he was close to retiring but was encouraged by getting the early break in the 1st set. Could it be that his already heavily taped knee might have saved him from further damaging the knee when he fell? He was in chirpy spirits and his eyes shone brightly when the analysts complimented his match-winning FHs, which he agreed were similar to the FHs that won him the USO in 2009:
I like when DelPo says, “I made a fantastic forehand” (shrugs) about his MP. He may seem calm and laid back, but he is no shrinking violet. Also interesting is DelPo saying how he needs to use the DTL shot more against Ferru. This will also be the case when he plays Novak in the SF.
- Selected quotes from DelPo’s interview transcript:
“I was worried because it was the same movements like four days ago … The doctor says they can’t do any more with my knee. I had the tape, a very tight tape, and that helped me to move a little bit, but nothing more.
“I didn’t want to retire in the quarters for the first time at Wimbledon against Ferrer. And that’s the reason for continuing play. The doctors give me good anti-inflammatories. I survived my serve in the beginning of the match. I broke his serve early, and that give me confidence to take advantage in the beginning of the match.
“Then I played [with] confidence, was careful all the time with my movements. But in the end I did 100% and I’m so glad to go through.”
“I will need to be 100% or 110% against [Djokovic] … He’s the No.1. He’s a former champion here. It’s going to be a more difficult match for me like today. But if I’m okay, if I do everything good to be ready for my next match, I will be excited to play against him.
“I remember the match during the Olympics last year on the same surface. But this time the pressure is different, I know. But I will try to be ready and do my best.”
The interview is quite a funny read.
- Franco Davin spoke to L’Equipe about DelPo’s focus on challenging the top players. DelPo’s upcoming SF against Djokovic will be a challenge — at the very least, it will be a great opportunity to continue to finetune his game against the very top players:
- DelPo confirms the knee pain from this latest fall was worse than the first. He attributes his win to having the courage and guts to “stay alive.”