Federer vs del Potro: The best five matches between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro

Hannah Wilks in Features 18 Mar 2018
Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro after the 2012 London Olympics semifinal (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/GettyImages)

Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro have played some of the most epic and entertaining tennis matches of the past decade - ahead of their meeting in the 2018 Indian Wells Masters final, we look back at five of the best.
 
2009 French Open - Day Thirteen

Federer is congratulated by Juan Martin del Potro after their French Open semifinal in 2009 (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

1. French Open semifinal, 2009 - Federer d. del Potro, 3-6, 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4

There were few indications coming into the French Open semifinal in 2009 that this would be a classic. Juan Martin del Potro, six years Federer's junior, had grown into his lanky height somewhat in 2008, going on a late-summer run of 24 straight match wins. He ended 2009 inside the top 10 for the first time and by Roland Garros was up to world no. 5 - but he'd never beaten Federer, or even taken a set from him, in five previous meetings. In the Australian Open quarterfinals, he'd only got three games. 

Moreover, it was the Argentine's first Grand Slam semifinal and Federer was chasing history, with a huge and possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to win the French Open for the first time presented to him on a plate after Rafael Nadal crashed out, in a seismic shock, to Robin Soderling earlier in the tournament.
It was supposed to be straightforward - instead it became a huge battle, and the match with which del Potro, then just 19 years old, really made his mark on the Grand Slam stage for the first time. 

The powerful Argentine took the first set and was two points away from taking the second before Federer climbed out of a 0-30 hole on his serve at 4-5 and took the set to a tie break, which he dominated. Del Potro broke twice to take the third set, but Federer broke early in the fourth to send the match to a decider. Del Potro was increasingly playing catch-up as Federer yanked him all over the court, and the pressure told when del Potro double faulted on his fourth break point at 3-4 and Federer closed out the match in three hours and 28 minutes.

Federer said afterwards that he was 'a bit lucky'.

'I can't remember a five set match that I've played that was so moving. It feels great to come through hard matches like these. It is more emotional, more satisfying. And I still feel fine,' Federer added. He went on to win the title.

Tennis player Juan Martin Del Potro from

Del Potro celebrates victory in the final of the 2009 US Open (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

2. US Open final, 2009 - del Potro d. Federer, 3-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-2

It's hard to quantify, eight years later, what an upset this was. Federer had, after all, won five straight US Open titles and was on a 41-match winning streak in New York; he'd won the French Open and Wimbledon and was completely on top of the tennis world. And del Potro, who most casual fans had still not even heard of, was a still-skinny 20-year-old (we didn't know then how the game would become dominated by men in their late 20s and 30s over the next decade) who had never beaten Federer. Yes, he'd pulverised Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, but nobody beat Nadal and Federer in the same tournament. And nobody other than Nadal had ever beaten Federer in a Grand Slam final. 
Del Potro made a poor start to the final as he struggled with the scope of the occasion and Federer strolled to the first set, then led by a break in the second after del Potro served consecutive double faults. Federer served for the second set at 5-4, but del Potro hit an amazing forehand down the line for 30-30 (proved to be in by Hawkeye). Federer lost his temper and del Potro swung the match, breaking back and taking the tie break to level up with his cracking forehand in full flow.

Del Potro broke to lead in the third set but Federer broke straight back and took the lead two sets to one when del Potro again served consecutive double faults. Del Potro was not known at the time for his stamina, and he wasn't favoured to come back and win in five - but that's exactly what he did, despite Federer being two points from the title before ultimately losing the fourth set in another tie break and being fatally broken early in the fifth. Del Potro broke serve one last time to claim a maiden Grand Slam title after four hours and six minutes.
US Open Day 15

Del Potro holds the US Open trophy  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

'I had two dreams this week,' del Potro said. 'One was to win the US Open and the other one is to be like Roger.

'One is done, but I need to improve a lot to be like you. You fought until the final point. You are a great champion. I'm very happy to be here with this crown, with these people, on this court. This will be in my mind forever.'

Del Potro, the first Argentine US Open champion since Guillermo Vilas, was feted at home and appeared poised to break up the hegemony that Federer and Nadal had enjoyed over the tennis world's biggest prizes. 
Switzerland's Roger Federer reacts after

Federer celebrates victory in the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2012 (PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/GettyImages)

3. French Open, 2012 - Federer d. del Potro, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3

By the time Federer and del Potro met in the quarterfinals of the French Open, much had happened for both men, especially del Potro.

The Argentine was struck down by tendonitis in his right wrist that required surgery at the height of his young career and missed virtually the entire 2010 season, including the opportunity to defend his US Open title. His ranking dropped to world no. 484 in early 2011 as a result and he had to completely rebuild, something he did with such success that by May 2012, he was back in the top 10 - but he had lost his last five matches against Federer and hadn't taken a set from the Swiss since beating him at the World Tour Finals in 2009. 

Del Potro was sensational for the first two sets, recovering the form that had taken him to the top of the game before his fateful wrist injury, but an injury to his left knee hampered him and when he was unable to close out the match in straight sets, losing his concentration in the third, Federer came back to dominate the closing stages.

It was Federer's seventh comeback from a two-set deficit in his career, and in drizzly conditions on Suzanne Lenglen, a rare open display of the undeniable competitive grit with which Federer is so rarely credited.
Olympics Day 7 - Tennis

Del Potro congratulates Federer after the London Olympics semifinal in 2012  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

4. London Olympics, 2012 - Federer d. del Potro, 3-6, 7-6(5), 19-17

A match which proved that best-of-three sets can still provide extraordinary, extended, emotional epics, Wimbledon was the setting as Federer and del Potro competed to reach the final of the London 2012 Olympics, with the winner guaranteed a medal.

Federer was hunting for the first gold medal in singles of his career, but playing for his country once more brought the best out of del Potro. The four-hour, 26-minute contest was the longest best-of-three men's singles match of the Open Era. Del Potro had the edge for the first two sets, but couldn't break Federer in the second despite two excruciatingly patchy games on serve and then Federer dominated the tie break. 

Slowly the match assumed the characteristics of a valiant rearguard action from del Potro. Federer had to hold serve 12 times in the final set - which alone lasted two hours and 43 minutes - to get the victory, although he was unable to serve out the match at 10-9, and it would take 16 more games for Federer to get the victory. 

'Juan Martin did so well to hang in there,' Federer said. 'It was very physical at the end, but also mental. I feel horrible for Juan Martin, but he can be very proud.'

There would be some consolation for del Potro when he beat Novak Djokovic to claim the bronze medal (an achievement he would repeat at the 2016 Rio Olympics). Federer lost to Andy Murray in straight sets in the final and got the silver. 
TENNIS-ATP-SUI

Federer congratulates del Potro after the Basel 2013 final (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

5. US Open 2017, del Potro d. Federer, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4

After rising from the brink of elimination against Dominic Thiem in the fourth round of the 2017 US Open, Juan Martin del Potro took all the momentum into his quarter final meeting with Roger Federer in a rematch of their 2009 US Open final.

Back then, Federer had jumped out to a two sets to one advantage, before del Potro hit back to complete a stunning five-set win, this time around, it was the Argentine who made the early move, converting the solitary break point in the eleventh game of the first set to bag the opener. Federer typically hit back to level matters, before a pivotal third set ensued.

Del Potro got the early break, but Federer pegged him back with the set eventually dragging into a tie break. Federer held pole position at 6-4 in the breaker, but the Swiss failed to convert any of the two set points. He missed a further two before del Potro showed just how it's done, unfurling a brilliant backhand to close out the set at his first opportunity.

A solitary break in the fourth set was good enough t guide del Potro to a massive victory over the Swiss Maestro.
"Unfortunately I ran into a guy who was better than me today.",' Federer said after the match.

"I think I played my best match of the tournament,", del Potro opined.

Just over a month after that contest, Federer and del Potro meet again for the 23rd time, with the Swiss holding a 16-6 record over the Argentine. However, head-to-heads hardly matter with del Potro around, if he brings his A game to the table, very few can cope with the mighty man from Tandil. However, the Argentine may be compromised ahead of his latest meeting with Federer, as he sustained a wrist injury in his win over Viktor Troicki in the quarter finals.
TENNIS-WTA-ATP-CHN

Juan Martin Del Potro suffered a wrist injury in his quarter final victory over Viktor Troicki. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)


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Federer vs del Potro: The best five matches between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro

Ahead of their clash in the 2018 Indian Wells Masters final, we pick out and revisit the five best matches between tennis icon Roger Federer and fan favourite Juan Martin del Potro

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