At one point during the fourth set of last night’s U.S. Open men’s final, a fan in the upper deck of Arthur Ashe Stadium yelled out “Let’s go home, Roger!” during a quiet moment. Even though a Federer win was no sure thing at this point — he was up a set but down a break — it summed up the feeling of the night nicely. Federer had so dominated this tournament over the last six years that, as well as Juan Martin del Potro had been playing here, it was hard to imagine this ending with anything but another Federer coronation. It wasn’t You can do it, Roger!, but rather We know you’re going to win, so let’s just get this over with.
Or, to put it another way, the following appeared in the daily supplement to the official tournament program, right on the front page:
Expect the Argentine to empty the tank here; he’ll serve big and try to keep Federer out of his comfort zone with his huge ground game. In the end, it won’t be enough. Give del Potro one set, but give Federer his sixth U.S. Open title. Federer — especially Federer in Flushing Meadows — is as close to invincible as a player can be.
Well, at least a player from this universe.
Del Potro did indeed empty his tank. But Federer ran out of gas, and finally — shockingly — proved he isn’t invincible, and is, in fact, of this universe. The first set and a half was vintage Federer — just pinpoint precision on virtually every shot. But Federer’s game would begin to slip; he’d go on to double fault eleven times, and blew leads in both the second and fourth sets before del Potro gained total control in the fifth. At one point, Federer even had words with the chair umpire after a delayed del Potro challenge, uncharacteristically resorting to profanity. (Uh-oh!)
Once the match ended, though, Federer couldn’t have been more gracious, though we suppose that’s a lot easier when you’ve already got five titles to your name. Del Potro appeared to grasp what it meant to beat Federer here, and who can blame him? He’s just 20, and as Federer mentioned in his own “acceptance speech as runner-up” (Dick Enberg’s odd choice of words), he’d just beaten a guy who had won 40 straight matches at the Open. Now Federer had done something we thought we may never see: He’d lost one.