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Del Potro's Chapter 09/17/2009 - 2:03 PM


by Pete Bodo

My wife Lisa and I had dinner the other night with long-time TennisWorld reader Steve Manning and his wife, Anne. We met them at a Mexican bistro suggested by Steve, who's from Los Angeles, but the six-piece mariachi band (one member of which was a pale-skinned woman who looked rather French) proved a bit much. While the prospect of two couples meeting for the first time having to shout over a mariachi band has great comic potential, we wisely decided to repair to a quiet sushi joint across the street, where we had wonderful, quiet time.

Steve had an interesting analysis of Monday's men's final: He thought it was not only unwise but bone-headed of Roger Federer to exchange cross-court rockets and down-the-line scorchers with Juan Martin del Potro. "Federer looked a little tired," Steve suggested. "It would have been much wiser for him to play down the middle, keep del Potro from taking advantage of all the angles he was opening up."

I think there's a lot to be said for this analysis, both at the visceral and conceptual level. My overwhelming image of that match is of Federer, making scrambling, heroic efforts to retrieve poisonous del Potro placements - and trying to outdo his young challenger. There was Roger, stretched to the limit, desperately trying to flick one of those magical backhand cross-courts out of Delpo's reach. There was Federer, lunging to gain that last step to a deep ball, his back to the net, trying to conjure up a cross-court forehand of his own in a familiar act of Federer-esque one-upmanship.

Up to this point in his career, Federer has almost always won such battles. His quickness, racket control, confidence and cool nerve routinely enable him to take any probing shot his opponent hits and return it with postage due. It often seems that you're most in danger from Federer after you've hit what might very well be your best, most penetrating, offensive shot. Federer's preternatural ability to transition from defense to offense has become one of his most talked-about qualities.

Only this time, Federer wasn't able to turn the tables often enough. I don't fault Federer for this, I give the credit to del Potro, who's now added a new chapter (albeit only the second one) to an extremely slim volume entitled: How to Beat Roger Federer. The chapter could be titled: Maximize Your Power to Contain his Versatility. And good luck to all of you who buy the book, because you're going to need it - unless you can strike the ball with the same lethal combination of pace and accuracy as Delpo.

Federer fans can point to many seeming inconsistencies in their hero's game and even demeanor on Monday. They can recite serve percentages and error-to-winner ratios applied to either the port or starboard wing. They can make a point about Roger's seeming fatigue, or that odd irritability that is manifested overtly when Federer gets into an argument with Hawkeye. None of the really matters, because it was the U.S. Open final, and del Potro won and Federer did not. And the interesting thing about that is that Delpo beat Federer in the most unlikely way - in a battle of big shots. It was Extreme Tennis at its testosterone-loaded best, and for once the "other guy" came out on top.

Manning suggested that Federer would have been better off pursuing a strategy of containment. If Delpo, Tower of Tandil, can blast 110 mph forehands cross-court, you've got to keep the ball away from that forehand. If he thrives on pace, do your best to loop, slice or massage rather than blast the ball. If he licks his chops and cocks his wrist the moment he sees an angle opening on the other side, deny him that open court. This game plan can be constructed the simple determination to keep the ball in the middle of the court, which in turn shortens the court.

I'm not sure that strategy would have beaten del Potro, but it would have handcuffed him to a much greater degree, and also saved precious energy. Instead, Federer seemed determined to rely on his tried-and-true formula of aggressive counter-punching. When Delpo belted a huge forehand to Federer's backhand side,  he tried using his quickness and that all-purpose wrist to counter with a sizzling backhand down the line. The formula generally works, because Federer is so quick, and such an artful ball-striker. But it broke down because his opponent pushed the known power threshold, and had the upper hand in enough of the rallies to get to Federer's best retrieves.

After a slow start, Delpo found his range and his money shot - the forehand - went from solid to spectacular. I think Federer instinctively wanted to, and felt he could, weather the storm of del Potro's game. Or perhaps he thought that at some point, Delpo's lack of experience (this was his first Grand Slam final) would cause him to tighten up. It's not an unreasonable expectation. That neither of those happened was somewhat surprising, and a ringing endorsement of Delpo's temperament. Federer took a calculated risk that didn't pay off. Worse, his Plan B was to win the shotmaking battle, and that proved impossible.

None of this is unusual, nor could Federer's miscalculation be called egregious. He, like the rest of us, probably was blind-sided by del Potro's tenacity as well as the furious level of play he was able to sustain. And having led by a set and a break, Federer had plenty of reason to feel that del Potro's streak of great play would inevitably ramp down and give the defending champion more room to operate. One thing we know about Federer is that he's not inclined to make many on-the-trot adjustments in his game. Champions who have achieved far, far less than he have frequently and volubly reiterated the familiar refrain: I'm just going to play my game, if I execute at a sufficiently high level, I'll be fine. . .  That, I imagine, was Federer's attitude.

You may also remember that a few days ago I quoted Jose Luis Clerc on a curious feature of del Potro's game: his tendency to stay away from the lines. He hits hard and deep, but he doesn't live for the paint. I don't think the final discredited that analysis, although one feature of it was a newfound interest in those lines on Delpo's part. He hit with unusually good length (depth), which is why he was able to contain and push around his opponent. And Delpo worked the angles on his cross-court shots well; allowing angle took precedence over proximity to the sideline. After all, the point-of-impact (the bounce) can be anywhere along the entire length of the imaginary line formed by the angle; closer to the line is always better, but it isn't nearly as critical as it is on shots aimed at the baseline. Delpo is very good at opening up the court with the cross-court shot. Once both men were far from the center service notches, he was able to employ his power and pace with great success.

This match might have developed very differently if Federer had found a way to push del Potro back, to make him hit rally shots from the center of the court. It isn't by any means a surefire formula to beating a player like del Potro, who has a robust appetite for taking matters into his own hands. Both finalists like playing the angles, but denying them might present more problems for a del Potro than a Federer, simply because Federer is a more resourceful, versatile player. You can't really handcuff Federer; he can beat you with finesse or power. But del Potro is a meat-and-potatoes power player, as he demonstrated throughout this tournament, most particularly in his quarterfinals with Marin Cilic and that semifinal with Rafael Nadal. 

So, avoiding a hitting contest with del Potro might have been a wiser way to go. I'm sure Federer had plenty of respect for del Potro going into this match. You could hardly blame him for deciding to stick with the game that has cloaked him in glory. Besides, we have yet to see if Delpo can hit the peak of his game, tournament after tournament, month after month.

The only thing we know for sure is that on Monday, del Potro found a way to impose himself on The Man himself. He was able to make the court big - so big that his significant advantage in height (he's 6-6; Federer is 6-1) and power had a greater bearing on the match than did Federer's skills and quickness. None of the other players who have beaten Federer have done it quite this way, which will give the No. 1 player something to think about, and give us some delicious fodder for discussion the next time they meet.

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Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 02:19 PM

Really enjoyed this Pete - very good technical analysis and blessedly free of, for want of a better phrase, 'the deeper meaning of it all.'

I remain puzzled about how poorly Fed was serving, (though in truth he didn't serve much better against the Djoker, and MY overwhelming lasting image of the match is Fed' wide serve going plunk into the net.), and why he didn't stay with a strategy that was working - the deep, but relatively low paced shot down the middle.

But as you say, the most important thing is that "Delpotro won and Federer did not." Yup.

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 02:20 PM

Hmmm...Del Potro looks calm and confident in that pic!

Posted by greenhopper 09/17/2009 at 02:25 PM

Great analysis! Agree on all counts. Thanks for this, Pete.

Posted by london 09/17/2009 at 02:25 PM

third! (hopefully)

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 02:25 PM

"I'm just going to play my game, if I execute at a sufficiently high level, I'll be fine. . . That, I imagine, was Federer's attitude."

I don't think so. The true mark of a champion is the ability to study the opponent's moves, and at the same time be aware of what he's doing in his side of the court. It must have been difficult for Federer to counteract the 'power' that Delpo had, but in time, he'll be able to adjust. Federer is no dumb. Just watch.

Posted by Master Ace 09/17/2009 at 02:29 PM

Did Robin Soderling do that with Roger in the last 2 sets of their match except his FH does not have the mph like Juan Martin? Also, Juan Martin two handed backhand is very good also and in Roger's presser, he noted it therefore, he went to the FH wing where Juan Martin was accurate from the middle of the 2nd set to the end. What surprised me more was that Juan Martin was able to take 2 tiebreak sets off Roger in a 5 set event which is almost unheard of.

Posted by Master Ace 09/17/2009 at 02:30 PM

Did Roger start the match by hitting balls to the center of the court ala Andy M against Roger but went away from it once Juan Martin got comfortable?

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 02:31 PM

I predicted Delpo to win the FO for a bet (to go to the USO). Had he won, I would have watched him win!

Posted by Peter 09/17/2009 at 02:36 PM

"...One thing we know about Federer is that he's not inclined to make many on-the-trot adjustments in his game. Champions who have achieved far, far less than he have frequently and volubly reiterated the familiar refrain: I'm just going to play my game, if I execute at a sufficiently high level, I'll be fine. . . That, I imagine, was Federer's attitude...."

In one word: He is stubborn.

Federer decided to engaged in a backcourt battle with Del Potro and that played into Del Potro's hand. Del Potro was in a zone and has too much fire power...even for Federer.

Posted by geikou 09/17/2009 at 02:38 PM

I remember noticing during the first set that Federer was indeed hitting a lot to the center of the court. I don't understand why he ended up going away from that game plan; perhaps it was because Delpo started playing better and no longer allowed Federer to dictate the points, especially since Fed's first serve wasn't clicking and allowing him to take over at least his service points from the start.

Regardless, Fed certainly *can* make adjustments in his game. He did so in his most recent match against Murray. I think this match will simply give him food for thought the next time he plays Delpo. It will certainly be an interesting encounter, especially if it's on a hard court again!

Posted by DavidC 09/17/2009 at 02:39 PM

We all love armchair quarterbacks, don't we. "If he had done this...." "If she had moved this way .... " "You wouldn't catch ME playing DP's forhand!"

Sheesh! Let's just make them all XBox characters and replay the Open - over and over again until WE get it right!

We're hacks - they're PRO's! They might not be perfect (insert human), but they sure know a whole H*LL of alot more than we (insert ME) do.

Lord knows I'm not a Fed groupie - but I do enjoy seeing him play. He tried - he just didn't win the 'cup' this time!

Posted by Pspace (Elf of DecoTurf) 09/17/2009 at 02:40 PM

Nice analysis, Pete. There were two questions I was left with at the end of the match:

1) Why did del Potro take so much off his first serve in the last two sets? Was he tired, trying to avoid double faults and/or sure he could handle Federer from the baseline? I was very impressed with the way he came up with big shot after big shot down break point.

2) Why did Federer stop playing down the center? In the first set and a half, Fed executed this tactic beautifully, by keeping del Potro tied in the middle and unable to free his arms. Two passing shots to break back in the second, and he seemed to throw tactics out of the window. There were two matches in which Fed lost his way tactically this USO -- Soderling in QF, and in the final. It will be interesting to see, as you say, if there's finally a possibility to outgun Federer.

In the end, I'm very happy with this result. Excellent match. Good champ. Btw, what's with Federer and all these five set finals? Three this year. Props to the guy for coming out to play every single day.

Posted by sally 09/17/2009 at 02:40 PM

roger deserved to lose
he was arrogant, showboating
thinking he had the match
with a set and a break up.
he thought he was playing
another pigeon who was
going to bow down to the
great federer. he was wrong.
no more majors for roger.

he has now choked away 3
major finals. w 08, ao o9
and now uso o9.
the sampras kads on here
are correct. roger is no

Posted by Ozone 09/17/2009 at 02:42 PM

Yes, Roger was hitting predominantly down the center, in the first set and Johnny mac made this observation several times...

unfortunately, he didnt stick to it.

Even the serve on duece court, Delpo forbid Federer from going to his slice out wide serve at all, because DP was bludgeoning it with his forehand. Federer could go only body or down the tee...

I think Federer has 2 things inside his head - Rafael Nadal and Hawk Eye. Both can beat him any time bcos of this...particularly if it is not his best day.

Posted by geikou 09/17/2009 at 02:44 PM

Pspace: "1) Why did del Potro take so much off his first serve in the last two sets? Was he tired, trying to avoid double faults and/or sure he could handle Federer from the baseline? I was very impressed with the way he came up with big shot after big shot down break point."

I personally got the impression that those two consecutive DFs at the end of the third set spooked him. That and it's not like Fed was killing him on the slower first serve. I seem to recall that when Delpo was serving at 5-6 in the fourth set, it was like...30-30 or something and he abruptly kicked up the pace of his first serve (and got them in). Kudos to him for serving big when he needed it and for throwing Fed off any rhythm.

Posted by VC 09/17/2009 at 02:50 PM

"If he thrives on pace, do your best to loop, slice or massage rather than blast the ball."

Del Potro now handles slices much better than he is credited for. Federer is the best slicer in the game and Del Potro was taking his deep slices landing in the BH corner and hammering inside-out FH winners from the 2nd set onwards. Federer's BH is a fairly "loopy" shot and it sits up in Del Potro's strike zone, as we saw in the Del Potro-Nadal semifinal.

Overall, the idea of keeping Del Potro in the middle of the court is an interesting one. It might have made for a more boring match, with many points decided with UFEs rather than corner-to-corner rallies and winners like we saw.

I think Federer should have approached the net a bit more frequently like he was doing in the first 2 sets. But then, he was passed to get broken in the 5th set doing just that, so I'm not really sure. I think his only option to win this match was to serve like he did in the Wimbledon 2007 and 2009 finals because Del Potro's baseline hitting was very hard for him to cope with.

Posted by scorpion 09/17/2009 at 02:52 PM

Lose and Win is just normal.
Stupid Sally ! Pete is no Roger.
Roger is better

Posted by Sankar 09/17/2009 at 02:55 PM

These type of analyses were plenty before Madrid. Then, Federer won Madrid, FO, Wimbledon and Cincinnati. What followed was just paeans.

The point is simple. Federer is not going to win each and every tournament, but he will maintain a good level in the coming years with the possibility of even dropping from No.1. It is age catching up. There is no point in explaining more than what is explainable.

Posted by Well Left 09/17/2009 at 02:56 PM

yeah sally really choked away those 5 setters.

why does fed even play the final set- if he's tied 2 sets all he should just give up.

oh wait didn't he win w 09 16-14 in the fifth set?
maybe he is a good player after all.

sampras didn't have the stubborn attitude Fed does, namely trying to beat the opponents' strength. Fed got over that tendency against Rafa in Madrid 2009 (I thought) so it may be a few more matches with delpo before fed avoids the dude's 110 mph forehand.

or maybe he should just quit. he's no sampras.

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 02:56 PM

hmmm...funny but everybody predicted Murray to win his 1st slam...and forgot all about delpo!

Posted by kjo 09/17/2009 at 02:59 PM

Overall, agree that the slugfest of the last few sets worked against Fed; I was yelling that at my TV at the time as well :)

That said, it's not the first time I've seen Federer overpowered at the baseline; heck even Agassi could sometimes do it for stretches. Or look at Gruel in the 2nd round when he got hot. The biggest problem was the absent serve. If he had been serving like at Wimby or the French he could have eeked out at least one of those 2 tiebreaks and would have won the match. The serve IMO has been off since Cincinnati.

Absolutely in the latter part of the match he failed to compensate for the absense of serve w/ a smarter strategy from the ground; I think he was a bit mentally fried.

Posted by VC 09/17/2009 at 03:01 PM

Also the point about Fed's "aggressive counterpunching" game (perfect description) being at risk against the big hitters is well taken. That is partly because he no longer has the footspeed to move to the corners in the blink of an eye and hit winners off angles that opponents give him. His defensive game has slightly declined with age and wear and tear and both Soderling and Del Potro were able to expose this to some extent.

Federer will increasingly have to rely on his serve, volley better and play first-strike tennis. Perhaps returning more aggressively on breakpoints would help?

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 03:02 PM

"roger is no pete" Truer words were never spoken.

Two great tennis of whom has one more GS than the far.

I'm always amused by accusations that Fed is 'showboating' - the tweener against the Djoker; the behind the back/between the legs shot he hit in a Master against Henman; that little behind the back volley and no look/over the shoulder lob against Delpo were simply desperation shots, plain and simple. Short of trying something desperate, he was out of the point. He was choosing a 5% chance of staying in the point over a 100% chance of loosing the point. Do the math. (The only one some MIGHT 'tsk, tsk' him for was the tweener at the AO against Safin. He MIGHT have had time to get back and hit a 'normal' shot, but boy, it would have been a close thing.)

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 03:04 PM

VC great observation with the slice

Yes Roger indeed uses the slice to his advantage,he also as you pointed out is the Best Slicer.

In the beginning of the match Del Potro was not handling the slice at all well,then he adjusted and what point I noticed he returned a slice with a slice?

May I add also Del Potro made further adjustements to his game from say the 1st and 2nd sets and turn the game around and won

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 03:05 PM

kjo - very good post...I agree. (So naturally I think it is a good post - brilliant even. lol.)

Posted by VC 09/17/2009 at 03:07 PM

Showboating indeed. The guy who took until this year to add the FH dropshot to his arsenal because he didn't consider it a serious-enough shot.

Posted by mw 09/17/2009 at 03:07 PM


As a huge Sampras KAD, even I must disagree. Federer is has done more, in a shorter amount of time, than my man Pete did in his entire career(Owch! Still hurts to say that)

But like Pete said himself. "Records are made to be broken".

Posted by Vie 09/17/2009 at 03:12 PM

This is DelPo's destiny, to win this Slam. Roger will not win all. When DelPotro beat Nadal in the SF, I thought that meant he will have super belief and calmness for the Finals. And that is very important to beat Roger. That is the only way one can beat Roger.

Posted by scorpion 09/17/2009 at 03:12 PM

Hey guys and stupid Sally !

Yes, Del Potro deserved to win the final match. No question about that. He figured out the way to play against Roger. That was why we saw he played better and better.

That does not mean we used all the bad words for Roger Federer.
That means you lack of knowlege and extreme...He is just a human. This is a lesson for him to realize his weakness. He is not perfect and NOBODY is perfect.

Now if you want to compare Sampras and Roger. I will tell you this

Peter has a very strong serve. That is his weapon. What else ?
Have you seen the total won/lost of Pete? Is it perfect comparing to Roger Federer?
The bottom line Roger is a human. Pete is a machine.
I like Roger because he is human like us. He worked hard to get the best record 15 grand slams so far. You cannot ignore it.
And even he cannot get more, he is still one of the best tennis player in the world.

Posted by BlueDog 09/17/2009 at 03:13 PM

While I somewhat agree with Pete's analysis for sets 3-5, I think it's a mistake to minimize the importance of Fed's poor serving performance. 11 double faults, 50% 1st serves in? It was obvious that the serve wasn't clicking from the very first game. It's not just the low percentage, it's the inability to find big serves at the right moments. How many times have we seen Federer bail himself out of breakpoints with massive serving? He couldn't come up with the goods on Monday.

As I watched, I was thinking Fed was lucky that Juan was so 'off' in the 1st set. Then Fed started to get too clever for his own good at the end of set 2. I thought: "Uh-oh, with that serving, you have no margin for fun and games". We all saw what Delpo's forehand could do against Nadal, and sure enough, it caught fire and Fed never regained his composure.

I agree with the many other posters who say that Fed did keep the ball slow and to the center during the first set. I was also puzzled why he dropped that approach later on. It was a frustrating match to watch if you were a Fed fan. That said, I like Delpo and he rose to the occasion very impressively. Time will tell if he is Chang school or Fed school.

Posted by VC 09/17/2009 at 03:14 PM

aussiemarg : Del Potro sealed the second set with an inside-out FH winner landing on the sideline off a deep slice in his backhand corner. Too good. After that, I don't remember him having much trouble with it at all. Djokovic struggles big-time with it nowadays though, for some reason.

Del Potro looked on the ropes serving at 4-5 in the fourth set, because Federer had raised his level to break back in that set and was looking good to close it out. However Del Potro wrested the momentum back in the next game with some big shots and never let Fed back in it. Credit to him.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 03:15 PM

Pspace You were kind of amazed Del Potro in the 5th set still was running around and say fired up?

Well I think any player when their game is Clicking like Del Potro's was,your are running High on Adrenlin.

As you are aware there are Highs and Lows in games,especially a 5 setter.

Difference being Del Potro went through a low period and got himself out of it.That to me was the Key in this match.He made the necessary adjustments to his game,when they werent working.

Posted by Corey 09/17/2009 at 03:18 PM

Excellent post Pete -- great analysis.

Posted by Pspace (Elf of DecoTurf) 09/17/2009 at 03:19 PM

AM, yeah, it was impressive that he dug himself out of the lows during the start of the match and after the third set. However, in those situations, he had nothing to lose. But, in the fourth set TB, and the fifth set, he did. And, he played with the "steel racquet". Sure adrenaline is part of it, but to me it says a lot about del Potro's pedigree as a champ. Did I say I was impressed? :-)

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 03:19 PM

VC yes I remember that shot from Del Potro.

Another interesting point,Roger was going with his f/hand straight and hard into Del Potro's f/hand?

Posted by Bhai Mirzai 09/17/2009 at 03:20 PM


You are basically suggesting that Fed should have played like Murray! A lot of junk balls. Actually he did in the third set, and it was working but then Delpo adjusted and Fed tried to go back to plan A.

I too would have like him to not give Delpo as much room on the FH --- hit closer to the body, but still on FH --- handcuff him a little bit.

But the junk balls --- Delpo was really pounding them really hard. He was just too dialed in.

And Fed could have still won --- had his service worked, and had he not missed some of the shots that much. It was uncharacteristic of him to miss my that large a margin time and time again.

So what lost him the match was not much a flaw in the strategy but the execution. It is very difficult to win without a good reliable first serve --- and he just did not have it that day.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 03:20 PM

Pspace I too was impressed.

Posted by Jeff 09/17/2009 at 03:25 PM

I think it mostly came down to Federer's serve deserting him. At Wimbledon (even though it was a longer match in games) had 50 aces (free points) and only 11 at the US Open and 50% serving. Think of the changed scores in the tiebreakers if he had a more reasonable ace count and first percent in. I don't see showboating, I just see a relatively confident player who was outplayed. The next time he plays Delpo, I bet he has some lessons learned there (playing to the center more, better serving, and that he can't overpower these bigger players). And gee, do people expect him to win every match, even as important as the US Open? And I think he was just a bit "off" in his overall game. How many players can play at his high level each time they take the court. Being the best does not mean winning all the time. He's a smart guy and will figure out how to try to avoid these kinds of losses. He's still the best.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 09/17/2009 at 03:26 PM

But, Pete... Federer actually did that, play to the middle!

Playing to the middle were exactly Federer's tactics (and it was obvious, I underlined it in my broadcast) in the first stage of the final! He tried to go back to those tactics later on, but it was too late by then.

Regarding Juan Martin del Potro's lenght, it has always been his strenght! He's consistent in being deep, he's got a 'vertical' game -- flat, hard, deep... and yes, he does not target the sidelines that much. His depth has been the main reason why he's beaten Rafael Nadal three times in a row.

But I'd like to say this regarding Federer: that shot between the legs was the worst thing for him; he was caught up in the 'genius' oopla that transfered into the final; that oopla continued with his scintilating first set and when he got the break on the second he was mesmerized by his own genius and lost assertiveness: suddenly Federer looked like the Roger before his first Slam -- talented, but making bad decisions; forgot to keep DelPo's head under water and Pampas Potro started getting into the match and finding his own rythm and pace. Besides that, at Roland Garros he had already showed that he could deal with Federer's technical/tactical versatility (the lethal use of his backhand slice as a surgeon's precision knife to make him bend all the time and go forward and backward, a lot of times inviting him to go to the net but not on his own terms, other times making him go back to the baseline in fear, most of the times making him not know what to do) based on sliced backhand de-accelerations and forehand/backhand drive accelerations.

But Federer was in the control seat until... he looked in the mirror and fell in love with his genius midway in the second set, just like Narcisus. Using another example from ancient mythology, I called it the Icarus Syndrom: Fed was so mesmerized by all the oopla surrounding his 'genius' that he flew too close to the sun & the wings of his talent melted midway through that second set; after that, he could only fly on occasion... but, in the end, never over his towering opponent.

And... something was wrong with his serve. His back? I never saw him double-fault that much, and his 1st serve percentage was around the same as in the Australian Open final, when he was carrying that back injury.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 09/17/2009 at 03:27 PM

Good points made here.

I'd like to add one observation about Federer's game, and he himself sort of alluded to it in his presser.

I've always believed that despite all the flourishes of brilliance that we've come to expect from Federer, he is at the core a percentage player. In essence, this means that he rarely makes choices that reduce his chances to win the point. He stays within his comfort zone, plays well within the lines most of the time, and chooses his tactics and shots judiciously. He rarely beats himself.

But the flip side of this is is that he is also not a risk-taker, and I believe this may have had a lot to do with his losing to del Potro. It was most evident, I think, once he got down 0-3 and 1-4 in the fifth set, where he seemed to begin playing it safe. It was almost as if he had oiled down his options to (A) going for broke and trying to snatch an improbable victory from del Potro, or (B) playing safe and hoping for a bit of choking fro his opponent. Let him miss, in other words. And I don't think that option A was ever seriously considered by federer. And, of course, in this instance Option B didn't pan out.

This may also have been at work when he was leading 5-4 in the second set, and squanered a few decent opportunities to seal the set and snuff del Potro's hopes out. Instead, he eased off the pedal (playing it safe, relying on the percentages and the belief that del Potro would, in pressing, beat himself) and gave del Potro just enough breathing room to find his range.

That said, hats off to del Potro for seizing the bull by the horns; for recognizing his oportunity--seeing the door ajar, flinging it wide open and busting through it. He took some big swings and some big chances, and it paid off handsomely.

Sometimes a match comes down to little more than that: a well-timed gambit that pays off.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 03:28 PM

Pspace - would you be as impressed if you knew he actually played with a STILL racket? lol. Heck, even if he had been playing with a wooden racket, I think any sensible tennis fan would be impressed. Can he keep it up remains a question, but so far all the signs look good for him.

aussiemarge - Fed going to Delpo's FH was driving me crazy - like I said, it was as if Fed was just content to be the ammo supplier to Delpo's cannon.

And I think that Bhai Mirzai also has a point that part of what happened was that Fed failed to execute as well as he has in most previous GS finals. Part of that was of course the Ent's play, but part was Fed being not-Fed.

Drat! Can EVERYBODY be right!?!

(Except for sally of course...)

Posted by BlueDog 09/17/2009 at 03:36 PM

Miguel Seabra:"But I'd like to say this regarding Federer: that shot between the legs was the worst thing for him; he was caught up in the 'genius' oopla that transfered into the final; that oopla continued with his scintilating first set and when he got the break on the second he was mesmerized by his own genius and lost assertiveness"

I've been thinking this all week, though I think Fed may have been also motivated to put on an interesting show for the crowd, as it was beginning to look like a blow out. He did end up putting on a good show, just not the one he intended.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 03:38 PM

slice - great thoughts. Pete once called Fed a "grinder" - maybe just another word for 'percentage player.' ( BTW loved your personal 'sportsmanship' story the other day. lol. )

Miguel Seabra - Fed as as an Icky Narcissist? Nah. Seems to me Fed moves on pretty quickly from events, good, bad and indifferent...I doubt that the shadow of 'the shot' was hanging over him on Ashe...just the shadow of this REALLY tall guy from Argentina who kept not going away.

Posted by VC 09/17/2009 at 03:40 PM

Does Del Potro's basic game remind anyone of Sharapova when she's playing well (minus the screeching, obviously)?

Posted by BlueDog 09/17/2009 at 03:43 PM


Great, now you've got an image of Sharapova with stubble stuck in my head!

Posted by FMG 09/17/2009 at 03:46 PM

i´m from argentina and i´m watching on tv how juan martin arrives to Tandil, his town...

you can´t imagine how many people received him. it´s crazy and unbelievable.

Posted by whatthedeuce 09/17/2009 at 03:46 PM

Interesting points Pete. I'm not sure Fed felt the need to rethink his approach until he lost his second tie-break. He usually does great in Championship tie-breakers but went 0-2 on Monday which must have been disconcerting (especially since it means that the pressure wasn't going to make Delpo's game wilt). It seemed to me that after Delpo cracked one of those unbelievably rocking forehands that Fed went right back to that side figuring that Delpo would overcook his shot in an attempt to overpower Fed or simply through cranked up exuberance. It worked once or twice (which is maybe why Fed kept trying) but Delpo reined it in after that (much to his credit and maturity). Slight edge to Delpo in the ground game, yes, but ultimately it was Fed's serve that let him down, as it did at the Aussie. If Fed serves like he did at Wimbledon at Melbourne and NYC, he wins both easily. That fact must drive Roddick nuts! Kudos again to Delpo for figuring out how to deal with his own service hiccups during the last two sets, impressive on-court adjustment.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 03:51 PM

The url is too long for here, but there is a story up at ESPN (Tennis) about Fed being fined for using obscenities at the USO. The story lists everyone who was fined and its not just the usual suspects.... or at least not just what has seemed to be the usual suspects over the last few days.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 03:55 PM

whathtedeuce... When I saw the second...or third.. of those Fed 'run around returns' get well and truly belted by Delpo, I wondered if Fed shouldn't have tried to run around and NOT clock his own FH...but just take the pace off and block it back up the line? Of course, its difficult, maybe even impossible, to have that much racket control...even for Fed... but still it would have been interesting to see him try. Give the Ent something else to think about.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 09/17/2009 at 03:55 PM

CL -- thanks. Yes, I had forgotten about Pete's "grinder" description for Federer. I think that, at the time, he meant it to mean that Federer was the consummate professional, grinding away at his chosen craft day after day, week after week, with the same consistency of purpose and commitment to showing up and putting in a good day's work. But I think we could expand that to also encompass his style of play, as you have done.

What I am finding interesting is that no one seems put off by del Potro's display of raw power -- huge, improbably flat 110 mph forehands from all over the court. It wasn't long ago that people bemoaned those hard-serving giants of their day, Mark Philippoussis, Greg Rusedski, Richard Krajicek and Goran Ivanisevic. Pete Sampras, too, although he wasn't quite as tall.

My own brother, a casual fan, gave me some insight last night over the ohone when he noted the difference between some of the women's matches--particular those involving Melanie Oudin and her scampering defense--and the men's with their hiuge serves and short points. He found himself enjoying the extended rallies of the women more. Of course, he was generalizing to a great degree, but I see his perspective.

Are we prepared for a new kind of first-strike tennis? While del Potro as shown that it is indeed something to behold, is it something to celebrate?

Posted by Arturo Hernandez 09/17/2009 at 03:56 PM

There is one last thing that I haven't heard mentioned. The effect of back to back semi and finals at the US Open. Mac talks about it all the time on TV. Could it be that at 28 Federer was feeling the effects of Sunday's match more than Delpo? He might not feel it as fatigue exactly but it could show up in the little things. It might be that he just didn't recover as well. Had it gone by in three sets it would not have been an issue. But once he got to the fifth set he could not longer sustain his concentration and energy level. Sampras lost a couple of finals like that when he was around 30. By having semis and final on back to back days, the US open may be favoring the younger player. When was the last time the older player won the US open?

Posted by Andrew 09/17/2009 at 04:03 PM

Lots of good points above.

I have been unable to figure out why Federer abandoned a winning strategy (hitting deep down the middle).

Del Potro was at his most dangerous when he could hit FHs from the corners - either running to his right, or running around a BH in the ad corner. Federer had a lot of success hitting deep down the middle, and attacking the net against Del Potro's BH. I couldn't understand why that game plan was abandoned.

The DFs number is quite remarkable. Federer has gone whole GS tournaments without hitting 11 DFs. I attributed it to varying his toss in the swirling conditions, but something was up. Federer was using a full knee bend on his serve, which he didn't do when he was worried by his back. Still, it was rum.

In the end, though, I think it's a big points issue: on Monday, Federer lost 2 TBs (his record for the season going in was 24-8, and missed so many important chances to break (set 2 for insurance, set 5 to get back on level terms). He DF'd the first point of the TB in set 4, and could never get back on level terms.

Del Potro's clubbing FHs were the match winning shot, but he was handed lifeline after lifeline by his opponent before he was in a position to use them. Credit to him for hanging in there, but he shouldn't have had the chance to do so.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:04 PM

slice - I seems we have been down this 'what if/power' road a lot, and yet here were are with people saying that champions of the future are going to have to have at least as complete a game as Fed. Of course it is true that the Ent puts a very tall exclamation point on the power game...which he combines with surprisingly good movement and better than decent defense. But what will be interesting is whether and how the other players on the tour learn to combat that particular skill set. Often when a player first breaks through...think the Djoker and Muzz...they seem unbeatable for a while and then weaknesses, which may not be obvious at first, begin to be exploited by the other top pros. Heck, it has even happened to Fed and Rafa... ways are found. Now whether the ONLY way to beat an Ent is to apply still MORE power, I think is too early to tell.

Posted by yello fuzzy 09/17/2009 at 04:06 PM

Delpo had a big summer last year. He has played well and sustained that form . His match against Roger at the French, gave him the belief he could beat the greatest of all time , on one of the biggest stages in tennis. Federer's stubbornness , which Peter mentioned in an earlier post, has won him most of his slams, but sometimes a player like Nadal or Delpo comes along who are just as stubborn as Roger. There is a freshness in their desire to defeat a Federer. Meanwhile Roger is hitting the same notes that gave him so much success, sort of oblivious to the chinks in his armor that Nadal exploits and the ones that Delpo was able to create in the final. Ridiculous to think Roger should change his game in any way, especially mid-match, but he has incorporated and utilized new options in his game over the last year. I am not sure if some of those tactics would have helped ( dropshots maybe!) .After defeating Rafa so convincingly,Juan was not going to lose in the final.
Delpo seems like they type of guy thats really stubborn

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:09 PM

Andrew - I agree, (in so far as my agreement is based on absolutely NO actual knowledge), about injury not being a factor in Fed's off serving day. I can't believe that he would trot off to DC if he had any kind of back injury or unusual strain. He DID say in his DC presser, (available at the Mother Ship), that he had always planned to be a DC barring "serious" injury, which I suppose doesn't TOTALLY sweeps an injury off the table but it comes pretty close.

OTH, he DID go and play a bunch of silly exos at the end of last year when his back was still dicey at best, so who knows what really goes on in that Swiss cheesehead.

Posted by Peg 09/17/2009 at 04:11 PM

" He was choosing a 5% chance of staying in the point over a 100% chance of loosing the point. "

Very well put, CL - and puts into words one of the things I like most about Federer's game, most of the time - he and Murray and the others who hustle all over creation. And it's why I figured he was done for near the end of the 5th set - on some of the final rallies, he didn't go after some of the shots I normally would've expected him to try to save. Whether it was brains or legs or both letting him down by then, I dunno.

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 04:13 PM

"he has now choked away 3
major finals"

This person is pathetic. How did she know Roger choked? Or better yet, she should know in how many finals , the guy showed brilliance!

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:13 PM

yellowfuzzy - so does that mean stubborn will work for the Ent but not for Fed?

Hey - I bet you will know this...ya know in Fed's little 'interaction' with the ump, he said something like, 'stop showing me the hand.." (I guess Garner was motioning at him to shut up.) Isn't there some pop culture reference like, "Talk to the hand"? Is it that dog puppet, Triumph? Been driving me crazy.

Posted by Mike 09/17/2009 at 04:15 PM

Geez ... and here I thought it had a lot to do with the 40% vs 70% first serve. Guess that's why I'm posting and not authoring.

Also ... someone tell sally a troll is using her moniker.

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 04:16 PM

What irreverence to human achievement.

Posted by didi 09/17/2009 at 04:16 PM

I would like to point out that Roger's serve was not at its best that day. I can't remember the last time he had so many double faults. Also look at all the top players and in the last 3 tournaments-Canada, Cincy, and the USO Roger is the only one to make 2 finals and win one. No other player did that and Roger is on average 6-8 years older. I give him credit for showing up at 4 GS finals this year and winning 2 and on top of that getting married and having twins. He looked tired too me. Although I am sad he lost I suspect he will come back for more GS wins. Also I think the umpire was unfair in that late challenge call. No excuses either but being much older probably played a part in playing the SF later and having such a short turnaround.

Posted by FMG 09/17/2009 at 04:16 PM

it´s crazy how are receiving juan martin in Tandil.
i know may be you are not so interested on this...but it´s truly touching me. he is on a firemen´s van, i don´t know how to say it, crying and people in the streets aplauding him with flags. incredible.

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 04:17 PM

Mike: The mods would have a way of knowing.

Posted by Tari 09/17/2009 at 04:17 PM

A fair analysis. I love the Fed, but he is stubborn. Don't look for him to change much the next time he plays Del Potro.

*nightmarish memories of watching same match vs. Nadal over and over run through mind*

*thinks about a martini*

Posted by BlueDog 09/17/2009 at 04:18 PM

FedOwned- Well, you sure seem like a nice fellow. Leading by example?

Posted by Tari 09/17/2009 at 04:18 PM

No, that's sally. She gets cranky. *waves to sally*

Posted by John Rose 09/17/2009 at 04:19 PM

My singles partner was disappointed when Nadal lost badly to Del Potro. We always are at odds: he loves Nadal's game and I love Federer's game. He expected me to gloat after Nadal's loss but I did not. I told him that Del Potro (and Soderling) may be a new "face" to tennis: tall, hard-hitting punchers. I told him that Federer would lose if it got to 5 sets. My analysis is that Federer has shown that he can get out punched. It isn't his legs and fatigue that I'm talking about, it is the difference between Ali and Frasier. Federer doesn't have the arm bulk to last. The second point is that at 5 feet 8 inches tall, big topspin players push me backwards because I don't have the height to hit down on the ball or talent to ping pong the ball on the rise. Del Potro is tall enough to hit down on the topspin ball that would be above the shoulders for us mortals.

I will be interested to see how the game progresses. It may go the direction of Volleyball players

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:19 PM

Tari - me too! metini.

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 04:20 PM

Grrr....I am fuming mad, but I'm not gonna do a Serena!

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:21 PM

FMG - aww...that 's great. Good for JM and good for his hometown!!

Posted by Ren (16 went pfft) 09/17/2009 at 04:21 PM

LOL Tari!

Posted by L. Rubin 09/17/2009 at 04:22 PM


fed revealed his vulnerability to pop culture by saying "THE hand." That, as you astutely pointed out, is a variation of the ridiculous "talk to the hand." Had he said "Don't show me YOUR hand..."


Posted by Johnboy 09/17/2009 at 04:22 PM

Slice -- very nice.
Regarding the previous tweener -- negativists are wrong. In Fed's calculation, that was the highest percentage play to win the point, not to mention demoralize his opponent (collateral damage). He was probably right. It would be neat to know to what degree Fed plays by instinct and by calculation/strategy.

And what evidence is there that he is succumbing to genius-narcissism on the tennis court, other than speculation? A combination of factors was at work in the loss, starting with poor (for Fed) serving and then a subbornness in trading forehands. Still might have worked as a tactic, however, to break him down. But it didn't.
The disturbing aspect wasn't the blown chances in the first four sets (a la Roddick/Wimb'09), for only the tennis gods kept Delpo in it at the most critical moments (like a computer system that is flat-out wrong - marks don't lie). Disturbing was (unlike Roddick) Fed's inability to elevate or even maintain his game in the fifth. That is the worst omen of the tournament. Delpo found a way to get to five and fully earned it in the fifth. Then again, hit happens.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 09/17/2009 at 04:22 PM

Hey all. :)

Interesting analysis, Pete and all the commenters. :) I was thinking about Federer being stubborn the other day.

Not liking the name-calling...sigh.

BlueDog! *waves*

Posted by Tari 09/17/2009 at 04:24 PM

Btw, I adore sally. She's tough on Fed, but she likes him. (At least I think that is still operative.)

Posted by Tari 09/17/2009 at 04:26 PM

Hey, ever gonna come out to the Open and have a 'tini with us?

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 04:26 PM

FMG Del Potro deserves indeed to be a Home Town Hero

I think his home town will be celebrating his wonderful achievement for a long time

So they should.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 04:26 PM

FMG Del Potro deserves indeed to be a Home Town Hero

I think his home town will be celebrating his wonderful achievement for a long time

So they should.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 04:28 PM

oops the Type Pad thingy sorry for double post

May I say I loathe and hate the word


Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 09/17/2009 at 04:28 PM

Gauloises will be happy if Juan Martin gets a fire engine to ride on. :)

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:30 PM

Liron - I did a little on-line research and how can you say something that has been quoted on "The Simpsons" is "ridiculous?"


(We can only hope it doesn't spread to Twibeland or "talk to the mother board" is on its way.)

Posted by Alexis 09/17/2009 at 04:30 PM

FedOwned - you can just go away... we don't need disrespectful posters here. Mods?

Posted by BlueDog 09/17/2009 at 04:31 PM

Hi Jewell!

I saw someone take issue with your posting style the other day, and I loved your response. I was going to insist that we all speak in Shakespearian couplets from now on, but the moment had passed.

Posted by Mike 09/17/2009 at 04:32 PM

Oops ... sorry, Sally. ;)

... and nothing taken away from Delpo. I must admit ... though a Fed KAD, I honestly felt good seeing how much it meant for JMDP to win.

Regardless of what Fed could or would have done, he didn't ... and Delpo kept pounding away until the last point. He could have very easily went away at any time and allowed Fed to rebuild his confidence, yet he persevered.

And finding out why he does the sign of the cross and kisses it upstairs tore my heart out ...

Posted by Alexis 09/17/2009 at 04:32 PM

As a fan of both Fed and Delpo, I'm cool with the outcome. I wish Fed had played better, but you can't always have your "A" game, can you? And Delpo is a sweet kid and a totally deserving champion. I mean, he crushed Nadal and then went toe-to-toe with Fed and came out of top... how can you not deserve your first GS after that?

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:34 PM

jewell - and a helmet - don't forget the helmet...

Oh Tari - I would LOVE to...I would even love to go to one to the US masters - Cincy, or IW, or Miami. Timing and $$$$ are so far not cooperating...but I am keeping my eye on the (tennis) ball, (and the martini olive), believe me.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:35 PM

Peg - yeah - you could see the energy level slowly slide down the slope in the fifth. Mental? Physical? Post Partum stress? Just one of those days? Who knows.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 09/17/2009 at 04:39 PM

yeah, BlueDog, I think my smiley-faced degeneracy was spoiling TW, or something like that - makes a change from spoiling with peculiarly British lesbianism and Fedadoration, anyway. :)

Shakespearean couplets? Eek! LOL.

How could I forget the helmet???

Posted by Alexis 09/17/2009 at 04:41 PM

Speaking of the final, I guess Fed got fined $1500 for language. LOL! I wonder if he can afford it? ha! Anyway, not surprised. I actually thought he would get a warning during the match but didn't. Obviously, I don't condone the swearing on court, but I tell you, Jake Garner got a few choice words from me during that final.

Here's hoping they either fine/fire Jake Garner for crappy officiating! Clearly the worst I have seen in a while.

Posted by joe 09/17/2009 at 04:43 PM

as much as I love seeing arrogant Roger Federer lose, he had beaten him the last 6 times in a row.. he was just outplayed- you're overanalysing it

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 09/17/2009 at 04:45 PM

I did say on the other post I think Mr Garner should pay Rogers fine lol!

Posted by sally 09/17/2009 at 04:48 PM

hi tari, you are so sweet, good to see you on here
again. saw your name in tennis mag, congrats.

yes, i still like roger but he is infuriating.
he should have 18 slams by now,
6 in a row at wimbledon
6 in a row at us open
i agree with miguel. he said it so well.

and why am i called names
isn't it against site rules
i am not calling anyone here names
i should receive same courtesy.

Posted by Genuine Realist 09/17/2009 at 04:49 PM

Del Potro won fair and square, but it is possible to overthink this stuff.

If Fed plays stronger points at 30-0 at the 5-4 game in the second set, we'd be talking a different language.

To me, the big problem was the coronation that took place the day before. Although this was the US Open, it had the same feel as a match Fed lost to Canas in 2007, when he seemed exasperated that the opponent didn't go away after he'd demonstrated his superiority,

Canas won fair and square, as did Del Potro, who played superbly. But it would be wrong to draw a ton of conclusions about it. The unusually large number of double-faults says it all.

Fed would have been much better served by a really tough match in the earlier draw.

Posted by CL 09/17/2009 at 04:55 PM

sally - I totally disagree with what you wrote about Fed both earlier and just now, but totally AGREE that no one should have gotten away with calling you names. I think it might have just gotten past the mods. Like the other night when after the 'Serena moment' several trolls came on board and hung around for awhile before the mods swept them away. It must be hard for the mods to keep an eye on everything, every post that pops up here, but no way anyone should have insulted you like that. Against site rules, among other things.

Alexis - I still think they should make any fine for any player a percent of their tennis income. It is the only way to make the fines have any real bite.

I also want to know the story behind the story, (at ESPN) about Daniel Nestor being fined for unsportsmanlike conduct toward a fan??? Can that be right?

Posted by cb720 09/17/2009 at 04:56 PM

I'm sure other people have said this, but DP did seem to be playing rope-a-dope. He looked exhausted in sets two and three. Maybe that's just how he looks. The commentators were giving him advice on how to conserve his energy. This may have been Federer's read as well- keep making him hit hard, go toe to toe, and the big man will wear out.

Posted by steve 09/17/2009 at 04:58 PM

what ? fed gets beaten for the first time by delpo and all of the sudden we need to analyze the finals, find the problems, and come up with a solution? wait, wait, wait.

delpo only beat fed once ! canas on the other hand two years ago, beat fed twice, back to back in 2 atp events ! logically speaking, canas's wins over fed should be given more attention. but why didn't this happen? because we knew that it was nothing serious. with regards to delpo, sure he hits the ball hard especially on the forehand side but, fed beat him so many times in the past in which delpo was hitting big time shots too.

in the finals fed beat delpo in the first set with no problem at all. to easy and to quick. but the reason why fed lost was because he wanted the match to be more interesting. unfortunately, fed lost his rhythm and lost some important points and games. thats all! its funny how a lot of people are analyzing the match and feeling as if they have the answers. as if they have the eyes and the intelligence to defeat delpo. you don't ! only fed does...

guaranteed the next time fed meets delpo, fed will win. and if he does, the readers of this comment should email me and tell me that i was right and others were wrong.

Posted by Zolarafa 09/17/2009 at 04:59 PM

Hi there,
This analysis and many more that I have read, seem correct. But who has won 15 majot titles and hundreds of other matches? And how many have these analysts won?
It looks easy when we watch from our couch, but the problem is to be there at the moment and do it.

Roger could have won that match if he held his nerves in the 5th set. Then would this analysis be the same? I don't think so!

Posted by steve 09/17/2009 at 05:01 PM

my email is

Posted by Tari 09/17/2009 at 05:01 PM

I'll be glad to do that, steve.

Posted by Benny 09/17/2009 at 05:03 PM

For whatever reason, Roger abandoned his game plan - During the 1st 3 sets he rallied down the middle, sliced the b/h and was able to keep the ball in play. His serve was inconsistent all day and he started shanking some shots and let Delpo back in the match in the 2nd half of the match. Very much reminded me of his play at the A/O final. I am sure Roger is bitterly disappointed by this outcome, although he won't admit it. Even with all his majors, they don't come easy and he didn't finish the job. Roger is right that, Delpo was playing better at the finish but the match should have been over in 3 or 4 sets at the most.

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