Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer have met for the first time at Wimbledon 2007 and they forged a great rivalry in the last 11 years, playing against each other 25 times. We remember their Grand Slam marathons and that epic match at 2012 Olympics that Roger won 191-7 in the deciding set but there were a few matches that brought such drama and excitement like the Indian Wells final played on Sunday.
After 2 hours and 42 minutes of a roller coaster ride Juan Martin prevailed 6-4 6-7 7-6 to score his seventh win over Roger and lift the first Masters 1000 title from the fourth attempt. Both players came to Indian Wells in a fine form, Roger won all 17 matches he played in 2018 so far and Juan Martin previously claimed the title in Acapulco, his first at ATP 500 level since Basel 2013! It was the final of the finest order and they produced us some stunning tennis from start to finish, pushing each other to the limits and keeping the crowd on the packed stadium on the edge of their seats, especially in the tie breaks.
This was their eight Masters 1000 clash and the first win for the Argentinian who played close to his limits in order to deliver Roger's first loss of the season. Federer saved a match point in the second set tie break and he had a colossal chance to bring the match home at 5-4 in the deciding set, wasting three match points on own serve before Juan Martin sailed through the tie break to clinch the win and the biggest title since the US Open 2009.
Almost nothing could separate them from start to finish, with just three breaks of serve in the entire match, but it has to be said that del Potro deserved his win fair and square despite those match points he had to fend off, winning 14 points more than Roger and taming his shots better than the Swiss.
The serve and forehand were the dominant shots for both players, as was expected, and Juan Martin did his best to keep his backhand safe, committing just 12 errors from that wing in total. In addition, he covered the court beautifully and Roger had to find special shots in order to create an empty space and lay his winners, which also drew a lot of errors.
Since he launched his comeback, Juan Martin struggled a lot to find the right balance on his backhand, opting for more safer but also less efficient slices that couldn't bring him much. He worked on his weaker groundstroke a lot and the results were evident against Federer, defending well and hitting deep and powerful shots that would keep him in the point until he gets a chance to fire a bullet from his forehand.
If you want to even stand a chance against Roger you have to beat him or at least stay close to him in the segments of the match where he is usually a dominant figure, in the area of winners and the shortest points up to four strokes.
Delpo successfully passed both tests, hitting just five winners less than his opponent and prevailing in the quickest exchanges thanks to a high number of service winners and also with a potent first groundstroke after the serve.
In addition, the Argentinian threw everything he had on Roger in order to keep the points on his racquet and stop the avalanche from the other side of the net if Federer could have gained the initiative with his forehands and net rushings.
We praised Juan Martin's game a lot and he was still one point away from the defeat thrice, that's how good this match really was. Roger found the range of his shots from the second set but he made too many errors, unable to control his shots better and to keep del Potro under more pressure.
Also, he was very nervous and that didn't help him either, losing his focus after wasting those match points and fading from the court in the deciding tie break to suffer his first loss of the year. He couldn't make a grip around del Potro at the beginning of the final set when he had the momentum on his side and we don't see too often that he misses three match points on serve, regardless of the rival on the other side of the net.
Federer did his best to mix the things up, sending slices with no pace to del Potro and trying to make him run with some crafty drop shots but his forehand let him down in the end, spraying more than 30 errors from his stronger wing and making some questionable decisions in the most important points of the match.
Juan Martin was 34-32 in front in service winners department and that helped him a lot to follow Roger's pace and face just four break points in the entire match. Federer had a 39-32 advantage in winners from the field but that came at the price of 33 unforced errors while Juan Martin stayed on 19 (just two in the opening set).
Nothing could separate them in forced errors, with 18 for Roger and 17 for Juan Martin but Federer also committed five double faults, including two in the final set tie break. A big majority of the points ended in the shortest area up to four strokes and del Potro built an 80-67 lead in those, which was also one of the crucial elements in his win.
The mid-range points from five to eight strokes also went to Juan Martin's side by 35-27 and Roger finally found his lucky charm in the longer exchanges with nine or more strokes where he had a 14-7 advantage. Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: