Somewhere close to 1am UK time in the early hours of this morning, I switched off the TV and headed up to bed. Juan Martin del Potro, having been 2 sets down (and losing those sets emphatically – 1-6, 2-6) had spectacularly fought back to level at 2 sets all. He won the 4th in a tie-break, having saved match points.
When I turned the TV off and headed to bed, it was 3-3… of course, I pressed the red ‘record’ button first.
At the time of writing the first draft, I didn’t even know whether Delpo would come through against Thiem.
Ludicrous as it sounds, Juan Martin del Potro is now my favourite to win the US Open. Here’s my explanation (written from 1.15am… I wonder if the match has finished yet?) as to why:
1. Injuries on the Men’s side of the draw
e.g. Murray and Djokovic, niether of whom started the tournament. Coupled with some first week upsets (Cilic, Dimitrov, Berdych, Kygrios, Tsonga), I would have said an in-form, or even out-of-form, Novak Djokovic would have posed the biggest threat to Juan Martin – amongst all of the other dangerous seeds.
2. Strength in adversity
Since his 2009 win US Open win, del Potro has been plagued by injuries which have seen an extended on-and-off period when it has come to competitive tennis. He’s had to fight, returning to compete with the physical and mental challenges that come with injury and lay-off. Though this sort of adversity can go either way, it can make a player stronger.
Addition: He won vs Thiem. And last night was only the 2nd time in his career that he’s come back from 2 sets down. How did he do it? We’ll find out in his own words shortly…
3. He has been here before… and he did it.
Back in 2009, during a time when Federer and Nadal were winning everything between them, there was only one anomaly… and that was the 2008 US Open Final. Aged just 20, a little-known Argentinian beat 5-time US Open champion Federer in 5 sets. From a mental perspective, one musn’t underestimate the strength and confidence in knowing that you’ve achieved something before… that you have been there, and come through it. You know it’s possible. And that you can do it again.
Yes, he may be older and not in ideal condition (forget his history of injuries, Juan Martin was carrying illness going into the match last night – more on this below), but – turning 29 this month – the Argentinian is that much more experiences and developed as a result of his injuries.
That said, he will still have to get past…
4. Federer and Nadal
In 2009, his win against arguably the G.O.A.T Federer, on one of his favourite surfaces (his favourite at the time) shocked the world. Remarkably, Federer hasn’t won the US Open since. So not only does he carry that pressure, but also the pressure in knowing that the opponent he faces has beaten him before. At this tournament. On this court. When he was much younger. We have seen what can happen when Federer plays old foes who have beaten him… both Nadal and Djokovic, before physical/mental ailments took hold, were overcoming Roger Federer. They’ve played a number of matches on hard courts – H2H stats here.
With Rafa, the H2H is more close. Crucially, del Potro has won the last two, both in Semi-Finals, and the most recent last year in the Olympic Games.
5. The stats dictate that it’s time for a ‘different’ champion
Just like every few years we see a blip in the global financial markets, and every few years we see a difficult-to-predict volcanic eruption or earthquake,,, every few years a tremor in the tennis world restores the natural order.
A look at the Grand Slam history books in the last decade or so presents an interesting picture. With the exception of Cilic in 2014 (an incredible win, but perhaps not as emphatic at the time as he won it against a more neutral competitor, Kei Nishikori), one has to go back as far as 2005, when Marat Safin won the Australian Open. Aside from those, the ‘big 4’ – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic + Murray – and Stan Wawrinka (who no longer counts as an ‘anomaly’ as he’s won 3 Slams, the same number as Andy Murray) have taken every single Grand Slam since 2005. That’s the last 12 years.
Watch del Potro’s on-court post-match interview right here – full of humility, gratitude, and the explanation as what made him come through, unwell, to win just his 2nd career match from 2 sets down. Though he was carrying illness and this match would have taken it out of him, if he takes each match one at a time (it’s looking like he will, and isn’t setting his sights so high), that could be a useful approach for him to take.
This year, at this time in his career (that said, who knows, Federer’s still going strong at 36…), even with Roger and Rafa on his side of the draw, this is del Potro’s surface, and is the best chance he has had of a Slam for a while.
I’ve spoken about some of the South American players coming through that I like (here), and I feel South American tennis is gathering pace – look no further than some of the Argentinians in the Men’s Draw this year, as well as players from Brazil and Colombia in the Juniors. A Juan Martin del Potro win would add fuel to this passionate, South American fire. This would be great for tennis, South America, and the world.
He’ll have to contend with physical and mental challenges, but Juan Martin can do it. And I’ll be watching closely.
Oh – and if Mystic Mac was a tennis enthusiast – chances are he’d predict the Argentinian would do it within 7 rounds…
Tuesday 5th September, 2017