What’s that about third time’s the charm?
In the Big Four era, the dominance of the quartet has made an almost-upset cause for bragging rights. Whether it was Kevin Anderson’s valiant effort against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year, or Julian Benneteau’s near takedown of Roger Federer and his balky back a few years before at SW19, these near wins are what is usually left after the Big Four (and Stan) have hoovered up the prizes.
There is something exciting about an upset — the favorite trying to squirm out of the judo hold, while the upstart tries to hang on knowing that a win would literally be the best thing that has happened in his career. So when a challenger falls short, as Bjorn Fratangelo and Gilles Muller did on Sunday, one can’t help mourn the glory that never came for players who don’t often get the chance to bask in the spotlight.
Federico Delbonis isn’t a stranger to the glory of an upset. In fact, his main claim to fame is his 2013 upset of Roger Federer in the Hamburg semis. Sure, it was the racket-testing, bad back version of Federer that crashed out of Wimbledon to Sergei Stahkovsky, but a win against Federer, all the same.
So, perhaps it wasn’t a huge shock when Delbonis took advantage of a shaky Andy Murray to take the first set. But it was even less surprising to see Murray take the second. Over the past 24 hours, the Indian Wells crowd had been teased with potential Big Four upsets twice, but the champions came through, as they almost always do.
It’s hard to even remember a tournament where three of the Big Four have been tested so thoroughly. First, in what most expected to be an easy match, Novak Djokovic fought a windy day, an underdog loving crowd, and a hard hitting American opponent, Bjorn Fratangelo, in a unexpectedly thrilling match. Then, as the winds threatened to tease his hair into a 60s bouffant, Rafael Nadal escaped the tricky play of Gilles Muller — who failed to capitalize on break points late in the third set, and lost his own serve and the match to a fist-pumping Nadal.
As the match moved into the business end of the third set, surely Delbonis would also lose hold of the match? He gave up his break lead at 5-4, so it seemed like this one would also follow the pattern of the other two. After all, it usually went that way.
But, whether it was something in the air left over from Fratangelo and Muller, or conviction borne of his win over Federer, or maybe the confidence to know that big chances can come again if you continue at the task, Delbonis managed the win. Andy Murray has had many days to bask in the joy of big wins, and many more of those days are surely in his future. But, for Federico Delbonis, a second big upset in an era that gives them up stingily is something to be proud of.