By Ros Satar, in Indian Wells
- Juan Martin Del Potro  def. Roger Federer  6-4 6-7(8) 7-6(2)
INDIAN WELLS, USA – Juan Martin Del Potro clinched a three set thriller to deny Roger Federer his title defence, as the Argentine claimed his first Masters 1000 crown.
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Juan Martin Del Potro  def. Roger Federer  6-4 6-7(8) 7-6(2)
Defending champion Roger Federer may have reached the Indian Wells final for a fourth straight time (allowing for the fact he skipped 2016) but things had not gone all his way along the way. Having eased his way through the rounds in straight sets, his first big challenge had been at the hands of Borna Coric, who pushed Federer hard, taking the first set off him and amidst unfounded rumours of a back problem, forced Federer to lift his level to advance to the final.
For Juan Martin Del Potro, he could have settled for an approach of just being happy to be there after the torrid time he has had with injuries, but the Argentine’s confidence was also high, coming into Indian Wells with the Acapulco title.
Having scored a few pivotal victories over Federer in the past, the Tower of Tandil brought Federer to the edge of frustration, as his powerful, deep hitting ensured he had not faced any break points on his serve in the first set, and indeed throughout the second set on the way to a tie-break, edged by Federer to keep the title defence alive.
Federer allowed his frustration to spill over as the raucous crowd made absolutely no doubt who they were behind, giving Del Potro justified reason to also complain to the umpire for unsporting cheers for faults from the fans.
No quarters were given in the third set but perhaps just a slight lapse for Del Potro was enough for Federer to pounce in the crucial ninth game of the match to take a 5-4 lead, and to serve for the title. Two match points came and went for Federer, not to mention a slightly aggressive tagging of Del Potro at the net that resulted on a hard stare from poking the bear – saving a third match point and breaking back.
With a brace of holds, the title was going to be decided in another tie-break. Where the previous tie-break had seen the momentum shift between four squandered set points for Federer, a first match point for Del Potro before Federer finally converted on his fourth, this was one way traffic for Del Potro, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. He lost a second match point as Federer claimed back two points on the bounce but a long swipe from Federer handed Del Potro his first Masters title.
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Federer: ‘I have to get over it, I feel frustrated’
Federer had opened his season 17-0 after winning the Australian Open and Rotterdam plus five wins here and up until the semi-final he had not dropped a set. While he did not want to elaborate on the issues he had raised with umpire Fergus Murphy, he did acknowledge that while happy for Del Potro to have won his first Masters, it had been frustrating to come out on the losing side.
“I have to get over it. There is no way around it. I mean, I don’t know. I feel frustrated, you know, that I let an opportunity like this go by. Serving 40-15, any game I probably win — I don’t know what the stat is — 90-something percent.
“So it should sting, like you said, for a bit. The question is how long? It won’t be long, but it’s disappointing talking about a great match like this, losing, even though I was right there, you know. I don’t know. Having Juan Martin come in and having to hit something past me that’s very uncomfortable for him, and you pick the wrong side and you’re like, Why am I picking the wrong side? Is it him or me?
“What is it? You just don’t know. Next thing you’re shaking hands and congratulating your opponent. It’s like, Okay, too good. You move on.”
After an amazing 2017, and his great start to 2018, he admitted that after his injury issues of 2016 he had a better appreciation of coming back from injury.
“I think I appreciate more the guys who have been hurt, because I was in that position now. Because that’s the part I didn’t quite understand, you know. When guys had to do surgery and rehab, you know, what you go through, you can’t put yourself into their position if you’ve never had it. So I think I definitely have big appreciations what you go through when you are hurt.”
Del Potro: ‘I have everything I want’
In his first Indian Wells final since 2013, he had been tested a couple of times on his way to the final and admitted he was tired and would need a good long rest but history was made as he was the first Argentine to claim the Indian Wells title in its history (since 1976).
More than that, after tough surgeries that affected his confidence in his game, his comeback had been all but complete, as he explained.
“I couldn’t imagine this moment. I mean, everybody knows I was really close to quit tennis before my third surgery on my left wrist. And after that, I made a big effort to come back and play tennis with the slice. Then with my backhand, it wasn’t good to play at this level.
“But then during the Olympics game, after the Djokovic match, my tennis life change again. I took a good way to feel happy again with tennis life. I won the Davis Cup and I say, Okay, I don’t have any more pressure to play tennis because I won everything what I wanted except Masters 1000 (smiling), but today I did.
“So I just — I have everything what I want, and I want to keep improving my game to see what can I do?”
So what now for the man who has achieved everything he wanted to, at times against great odds?
“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis. We played great tennis today. I’m No. 6 in the world, I think? Which is so good to me. And I’m excited to keep working. I’m not expecting — I not expect to go up in the ranking. I don’t care about the numbers. I just want to keep winning title like this if I can. But the first thing is try to be healthy during the whole year and play where I like to play. Now I have to do a smart schedule on clay to feel 100% for the rest of the season.”
The Miami Open takes place between 21 March and 1 April.
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