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Federer stunned by Del Potro in New York

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Juan Martin del Potro has ended Roger Federer's run of dominance at the US Open, stunning the top-ranked Swiss in five sets to win his first grand slam final.

This content was published on September 15, 2009 - 07:57

The 20-year-old Argentine prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 to snap Federer's streak of five straight US Open titles. The sixth-seeded Del Potro had not beaten Federer in their six previous encounters.

"Maybe I look back and have some regrets about it," said 28-year-old Federer, never before beaten by anyone other than Rafael Nadal in a major final. "But, you know, you can't have them all and can't always play your best."

Federer was seeking to become the first man since Bill Tilden in 1920-25 to win the American championship six straight times and the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win three straight majors in a season.

Two points from victory against inexperienced, unheralded Del Potro, two points from a record-extending 16th grand slam overall, Federer, quite simply, fell apart.

He railed at the chair umpire. His legs grew weary. His double-faults mounted. He could not figure out a way to stop the 1.98-metre Del Potro from pounding forehand after forehand past him. In a result as surprising for who lost as how it happened, Del Potro came back to win his first grand slam title.

"I think the first major is always a big deal," Federer said. "Best feeling on the planet after all the hard work you put in. It was good to see him being so happy and emotional about it."

Flappable

Federer had won 40 consecutive matches at Flushing Meadows. He had won 33 of his previous 34 grand slam matches. And he has made the final at 17 of the past 18 grand slam tournaments, 21 overall.

Somehow, Del Potro never seemed intimidated by the setting or the man many consider the greatest tennis player in history.

"I would like to congratulate Juan Martin on an unbelievable tournament. I had a great one myself, too," Federer said, "but he was the best."

The usually unflappable Federer argued with the umpire during a changeover, saying "Don't tell me to be quiet, OK? When I want to talk, I talk."

He also got steamed while up a set and serving at 5-4 in the second. Del Potro tried a forehand passing shot that was called wide, but he challenged, and the replay system showed he was right. Federer kept glancing at the mark the shot left on the blue court, even into the next game, and Del Potro wound up stealing the set.

"That one cost me the match, eventually," Federer said.

Serving woes

The four-hour, six-minute match was the first US Open final to go five sets since 1999, and there were no early signs to indicate it would be this competitive – much less end with Del Potro down on his back, chest heaving, tears welling, a grand slam trophy soon to be in his arms.

Federer took a 3-0 lead in 15 minutes, winning one point by racing almost two metres wide of the doubles alley for a defensive backhand, then sprinting the other way for a cross-court forehand passing winner that he celebrated by yelling and shaking his fists.

But Del Potro eventually got going, swinging more freely and taking full advantage of Federer's serving woes: 11 double-faults and a first-serve percentage of only 50.

Used to travelling without a full-time coach, Federer generally is quite adept at making mid-match adjustments and dealing with opponents' switches in strategy. But it was Del Potro who realised he needed to put full belief in the strength of his 160km/h forehands and not worry about too much else.

That tactic worked, and Federer never found a way to counter it, losing leads in the second set and the fourth set. He was up 5-4 in the fourth, and at 15-30 on Del Potro's serve, Federer needed only two more points to equal Tilden's record.

Del Potro held steady there, and Federer would never come that close again.

Tired

From mid-May until Monday, Federer's match win-loss balance was 32-1 with four titles from five tournaments. Apart from the on-court success, Federer's 2009 included getting married and becoming a father of twins.

Quite a year. Still, one can't help reflect that no man has won even three consecutive major tournaments in a season – much less all four – since Rod Laver's true Grand Slam in 1969. Federer came close this year, his French Open and Wimbledon titles bookended by a five-set loss to Nadal in the Australian Open final and Monday's five-set loss to Del Potro.

This US Open was Federer's first grand slam event since his daughters were born, and he spoke proudly of quickly learning to change nappies and getting used to sleeping less.

"Right now, I'm just tired," he said after his loss. "I want to get a rest."

swissinfo.ch and agencies

In brief

Roger Federer was born on August 8, 1981 in Binningen, canton Basel Country.

His father is Swiss German, and his mother South African.

He speaks three languages fluently: German, French and English. At home he uses Swiss German.

The world number one has won 15 grand slam titles: Roland Garros (2009), Australian Open (2004, 2006, 2007), Wimbledon (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009) and the US Open (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008).

(As of September 15, 2009)
Singles record: 670 wins, 157 losses
Singles titles: 61 (including 15 grand slam titles)
Career prize money: $50,777,919

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