This year’s US Open has been riddled with upsets from the first day, on both sides of the draw. On the men’s side, prominent players like Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, and Andy Murray pulled out with injury. The champions of four of the last six years weren’t even competing in the tournament. The upsets then came fast and early, with losses by players like Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic (the 2014 champion), Tomas Berdych, and John Isner in early rounds, among others.
Federer was almost another one of those upset victims twice in the early rounds. On the second night of the tournament, he was pushed to a fifth set by American teenager Frances Tiafoe. Two nights later, Federer was clearly troubled by his back as he fell to a 2-1 set deficit to Marcos Baghdatis. Federer overcame both of those and moved into the third round, where he suddenly became much more relaxed and comfortable in the tournament. Federer won his next two matches each in straight sets, which brought him to Wednesday night against Juan Martin del Potro.
Del Potro overcame Dominic Thiem in the fourth round in a five-set epic, during which the tall Argentine was visibly ailing in the first two sets. Somehow he fought his way through his illness and his opponent, and the 24th seed arrived at this match perfectly healthy.
Del Potro was competing evenly with Federer early in the match, as both held serve comfortable throughout the first set. A late loose game by Federer–which included an incredible shot by del Potro to end it–gave del Potro the break, and he consolidated to take the first set 7-5. Federer took a break in the second set and carried it to victory.
Del Potro earned an early break in the third set, but he couldn’t hold on to it as Federer broke back shortly thereafter. The pair traded holds until a back-and-forth tiebreak, in which del Potro saved a set point on his opponent’s serve and took the set a few points later, again on Federer’s serve. Del Potro then earned an early break in the fourth set, which his Swiss opponent could never get back.
This upset ends a perfect Slam season for Federer. The Swiss “Maestro” was a perfect 18-0 in Grand Slam matches this year, as he won titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, while electing not to play at the French Open. While this loss might be viewed as a disappointment–he came into the tournament as one of the favorites–this is still his best Slam season since 2009, the last time he won more than one Slam in a season. Ironically enough, Federer also lost to del Potro at the US Open in 2009, though that time it was in the final.
This also means that we will still never have seen Federer face rival Rafael Nadal at the US Open. This is the fifth time that the pair have been one match away from meeting in Flushing Meadows, but an upset has always prevented it. This is the second time that del Potro has been the one to do it–he also upset Nadal in 2009 in the semifinals, and the Spaniard would have met Federer in the final had he won the match. This result also guarantees that Nadal will remain World #1 after the US Open, guaranteeing Spain the top ranking on both the men’s and women’s tours.
Del Potro has one career Slam trophy in his case: that 2009 US Open. He has suffered terrible wrist injuries that have really derailed his career since then. He is finally looking to be in good enough form to challenge for a Slam, and his best chance will come in New York, on his favorite surface. Next up is Nadal on Friday, presumably in the night match. With chaos on the other side of the bracket, the winner of the Nadal vs del Potro semifinal will be a heavy favorite over his opponent in the final–whether it be Pablo Carreno Busta or Kevin Anderson.
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