US Open 2009: Del Potro, Federer, Clijsters

21:29 Sun 13 Sep 2009. Updated: 13:10 11 Dec 2009
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Rain delays over the last few days mean that the US Open men’s final isn’t until tomorrow, with the men’s semifinals and women’s final today. Those three matches produced some excellent tennis, although none of them were particularly close.

The first, Nadal–Del Potro, was the most surprising. While it seemed likely that Del Potro would give Nadal trouble, I don’t think anyone expected him to deliver the worst Grand Slam beating of Nadal’s career, 6–2, 6–2, 6–2.

Del Potro hits the ball extremely hard, and is tall enough (at six feet six inches) that Nadal’s high-bouncing topspin shots rise to an ideal point for him, rather than an awkward point (which is one of Federer’s problems playing against Nadal). So the ball bounces high to Del Potro, and he just hits it very hard. Not that that’s his entire game—he’s also moving better than I’ve seen him move in the past, and displayed some excellent touch during the match. He also stayed extremely focused and didn’t waver during any of Nadal’s attempts to regain control of the match. Nadal wasn’t at his best, and was struggling with injury, but Del Potro played spectacularly well and thoroughly deserves his spot in tomorrow’s final.

Where he will meet, almost inevitably, Roger Federer. Federer beat Novak Djokovic 7–6 (3), 7–5, 7–5 in a match that started out looking tricky: Federer gave up his serve in the first set and was down 2–4 before Djokovic played a very poor service game to let Federer right back into the set. If Djokovic had played solidly there, it’s possible that it would have taken Federer longer to get it together, and if Djokovic had won the first set, it would have been a completely different match. As it was, Federer settled in, more or less deciding matters. As the match went on, Federer relaxed, and ended up playing some shots that looked most suited to exhibition play.

There was a shot around the net post for a forehand drive (Djokovic also apparently played a similar shot soon afterwards). There was a no-look backhand retrieval that he had no business getting to and which clipped the net, denying Djokovic and adding egregious luck to an already amazing play. There were numerous amazing groundstrokes. And then, with Djokovic serving at 5–6, 0–30 in the third, there was a completely outrageous between-the-legs retrieval winner that set up three match points.

I love that just before Federer hits the shot John McEnroe says, “Oh, not again”. I’m not entirely certain what he’s thinking of there, because there are many precedents, but it could well be the shot from last year’s semifinal between the two, in which Federer returns a smash with a winning smash lob that was almost as ridiculous as this year’s between-the-legs one.

Federer looked shaky in the first set, but he was also hitting some fantastic winners, and once he got over his poor start, he just came up with more and more amazing tennis. Djokovic played well, but couldn’t hang around during the big points and couldn’t keep the pressure on Federer long enough.

Federer has now reached all four major finals in a single year for the third time in his career, the first time any man has done this three times. It’s also his seventh consecutive major final and his seventeenth of the last eighteen. There’s his Grand Slam semifinal streak, now at 22. Furthermore, he’s also either been the champion or lost to the eventual champion at 22 consecutive Grand Slam events (including this year’s US Open).

As much as Del Potro has improved, I don’t think he’ll manage to beat Federer tomorrow. It could end up being close, but I think that Federer will find some way to solve the problem presented by Del Potro’s game, just as he eventually did in Paris this year.

In the women’s final, Kim Clijsters completed an amazing run by beating Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets. Clijsters has been playing extremely solid tennis throughout the US Open, with excellent use of both power and angles. She deserved her victory over Serena Williams in yesterday’s semifinal, and didn’t deserve to have it marred by the bizarre ending (Serena had a point awarded against her on match point after she verbally attacked a line judge). In the final, she lost her way briefly in the first set before recovering and taking the match 7–5, 6–3. I was impressed by her and Wozniacki: the quality of the match was high, although while Wozniacki was impressive in forcing Clijsters to hit extra balls, she was never able to really take control of rallies from Clijsters. Clijsters is the first unseeded woman to win the US Open, and the first mother to win a Slam since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.

One Response to “US Open 2009: Del Potro, Federer, Clijsters”

  1. Jade John Says:

    OK, Juan, let’s see what you’ve got…not sure I’m crazy about him, but maybe he can prove me wrong by keeping this victory up

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