Welcome to another Live ThoughtLog, where I’ll try to leave coherent thoughts as this do-or-die match between Juan Martín del Potro and Roger Federer unfolds. For these posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:
BP: Break Point
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
GP: Game Point
SP: Set Point
S&V: Serve and Volley
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error
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First Point: a fun one: Federer ends up hitting a pretty decent volley, but Delpo tracks it successfully, and Roger can’t handle his response.
Break Points for Del Potro (0-0, 0-40): Federer goes down 0-40 on his very first service game. Saves the 1st with a SW up the T. Saves the second with an inside-in FH after moving Delpo around the court rather easily. But then misses a short FH wildly off a decent Delpo return. Delpo breaks!
Shambolic start from Federer: all of those points except for the first one were either UFEs or great points by him. In short, a reflection of his 2013 season.
Break Point for Federer (1-0, 30-40): A fun point ensues, with both men trying to get an edge (Delpo with pace, Federer with some tricky BH slices). Federer goes for a big I-I FH, and pulls it wide. Moments later, Del Potro holds.
Tactical Point: Early on, you can say that Delpo is being significantly more purposeful than he was two days ago against Novak Djokovic. He’s trying to push Federer back with pace early in rallies, but isn’t using a whole lot of I-I FHs or BHs DTL yet. Just hitting aggressive shots mostly at Federer.
Roger, on the other hand, is looking to use some off-pace shots (BH slices, mostly) to keep Delpo from unloading, and also to open up the court. So far, he’s used a BH DTL slice, a FH DTL slice and other assorted trickery.
Break Point for Del Potro (3-1, AD-Del Potro): Federer was up 40-0 in this game, but hits two great returns, Federer panics with a horrible dropper, and then Delpo hits a great BH DTL to set that break chance up. And he converts it after Federer is pressured into going for too much on a FH after a long rally (which involved another very good Del Potro BH DTL). Delpo up 2 breaks!
Moments later, Delpo consolidates for a 5-1 lead. He’s playing at a high level…and Federer isn’t. Things that often happen when one player gets a 2 break lead.
Federer produces one of his minute holds to love, so Delpo will have to serve out this set.
Crunch Time – Del Potro serving for the 1st set at 5-2: Juan Martín opens this key game by sending an I-I FH long. He then has a look at a FH DTL pass, and just misses. 0-30. Federer brings Delpo to the net with one of his short slice returns, and passes him rather comfortably with his FH CC. Triple Break Point, 0-40. Without much fuss, Federer pushes Del Potro back, sees an opening, and fires an I-O FH winner into the open court. Federer breaks!
Tactical Point: Down 2 breaks, Federer realized that the off-speed stuff wasn’t going to cut it today. He’s being much more aggressive early on in rallies, and he’s looking to counter-punch whenever Del Potro attacks him.
Crunch Time (again) – Del Potro serving for the 1st set at 5-4: A fun first point ensues – lots of slicing early on, then both guys accelerate and Federer is forced to play phenomenal defense. Then, when the point seemed to settle into a neutral vibe again, Delpo dumps a FH into the net. 0-15. Del Potro then blasts an I-I FH to great effect, 15-15. Another phenomenal BH DTL by Del Potro triggers a forced error from Federer (it barely misses, as we see after Roger’s challenge). 30-15. Federer then comes forward and puts away an easy volley after a good FH DTL approach. 30-30. Then….a fantastic BH slice lob by Federer after a great FH DTL by Delpo triggers the 2nd tweener of the match by Delpo, which offers Federer an easy chance to put away a volley. 30-40, Break Point. It’s saved by a nice SW out wide. Another fun rally with loads of BH slicing (mainly by Federer), ends with a Delpo CC BH UFE. AD-Federer. The 2nd BP is saved by a fantastic Ace out wide. Deuce #2. SW up the T, and Delpo FINALLY has a Set Point. Delpo clinches it with another fine I-I FH that forces Federer’s error.
First Set to Juan Martín del Potro, 6-4.
Tactical Point: To me, the key has been Del Potro’s willingness to attack Federer’s FH corner with either good, violent I-I FHs or BHs DTL. That’s always a sound plan against Federer, but one that Delpo has been somewhat reluctant to use in the past (hence the bad H2H).
Here are your 1st set stats:
Nice Hawk-Eye graph:
This came after Federer held easily to start the 2nd set. Remarkable, isn’t it? Delpo’s return game has always been underrated, I think (it’s not really elite, but way better than what most big guys can do).
Break Points for Juan Martín Del Potro (1-1, 0-40): Federer botches a FH dropper, and then a regulation FH. Shambolic play at the start of a set once again. He saves the first BP with a good CC FH that forces Delpo’s error. However, Federer dumps a seemingly harmless BH into the net. Del Potro breaks!
Not break point, but key point (2-1, 30-all): Delpo has a tight situation here, but Federer botches a FH, and we hear some German expletives coming from his end. His frustration is justified, and Delpo holds shortly after. That was funny, too.
Federer has said all week that his inconsistency in matches has taken a mental hold. Seeing it again. Del Potro leads 64 32 with a break.
— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) November 9, 2013
Break Points for Roger Federer (3-2, 0-40): A sloppy game from Delpo sees him down big in very little time. The 1st BP seems to have been saved by a Delpo SW, but Federer challenges, the serve is shown to be out, and Delpo DFs. Federer breaks!
Not only that, but Federer makes it 12 points in a row as he consolidates for his first lead of the match (4-3).
Stats Update at 4-3:
Remember that 3-pt Baseline Point lead Delpo had after the 1st set? 'Tis vanished. Both tied at 24 after 7 games in the 2nd set.
— Juan José Vallejo (@juanjosetennis) November 9, 2013
Also after 7 games in the 2nd set: both Federer and Delpo have the same number of FH UFEs.
— Juan José Vallejo (@juanjosetennis) November 9, 2013
Tactical Update: Delpo is back to being passive during rallies, which makes it easier for Federer to get a look at mid-court FHs to dictate with. Gone are Delpo’s purposeful FHs and brilliant BHs DTL.
Crunch Time – Del Potro serving to stay in the set at 4-5: An awkward smash makes it 30-0 after a decent Federer dropper, and then Del Potro hits a brilliant CC BH off a short slice BH return by Federer to go up 40-15. A SW seals the hold.
Moments later, Federer holds easily, so some more crunch time is coming for Delpo.
Crunch Time – Del Potro serving to force a Tiebreak at 5-6: Delpo starts with an UFE, and then Federer responds in kind with a violent FH UFE of his own. 15-15. Then, Federer produces some acrobatic volleys, and makes Delpo hit one too many passing shots. The last one ends in the net. 15-30. Then, a brilliant point by Delpo, who pegs Federer to the BH corner with 3 straight I-O FHs, and then finishes the point with a perfect I-I FH into the open court. 30-30. Delpo then misses an ace by about a millimeter, but Federer dumps the BH 2nd serve return into the net. 40-30, GP. Then, a wonderful BH DTL half-volley by Delpo after a great I-O FH return by Federer.
Tiebreaker! Federer will serve first:
0-0: A fun, aggressive rally ends with Delpo shanking a FH.
1-0, Federer: Delpo has 2 chances to attack, lets them go, but then Federer sends a meek FH into the net.
1-1: A fantastic BH DTL gives Federer an easy swinging volley that he sends straight to Delpo, who forces him to hit a great volley. Delpo didn’t expect that one to come back, and nets the pass. Minibreak!
2-1, Federer: Ace out wide.
3-1, Federer: SW out wide.
4-1, Federer: Ace up the T by Delpo.
4-2, Federer: Good serve by Delpo, but Federer brings him to net with a tricky short slice return. A good pass can’t be handled by Delpo. Minibreak!
5-2, Federer: FH CC winner by Federer off a short service return by Delpo.
6-2, Federer: Ace up the T by Federer to take the second set!
Second set to Roger Federer, 7-6 (2)
Here are your 2nd set stats:
Stats Update: Federer now up 2 Baseline Points on Delpo, and it’s the Argentine who has collected one more FH UFE.
Third Set – Juan Martín Del Potro will serve first
Nice Hawk-Eye graph:
At this point, Federer was down 1-5. And then, this happened:
Break Point for Juan Martín del Potro (0-1, 30-40): Federer dumps a FH long to set up BP, and then sends another FH into the net. Del Potro breaks!
Just like every set today, Roger Federer has gotten broken in his first service game.
Ominous stat against Federer:
Federer, down 2-0 in 3rd set to del Potro, has lost last 12 matches vs. Top 10 after losing 1st set. Last win v del Potro at 2012 Olympics.
— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) November 9, 2013
Delpo consolidates the break, and is up 3-0 in the decider.
I am Mirka, Mirka is me pic.twitter.com/405aj48qg8
— Klara (@FeddyBeaar) November 9, 2013
Potentially key point (3-1, 30-15): Delpo hits a great serve, has a short BH to put away, and sends it long. 30-30 instead of 40-15. The point of the match follows: a long, varied rally full of power and craft ends when Federer manages to counter-punch a good CC FH by Delpo with one of his own. Which leads to…
Break Point for Roger Federer (3-1, 30-40): Just like against Djokovic in the first set, Federer goes for a big I-I FH that barely misses. Deuce #1. Delpo then misses a relatively simple FH DTL, and it’s another BP for Federer. Which is converted when Del Potro fires one of his favorite shots, a short I-O FH, well wide. Federer breaks!
Potentially key point (3-2, 15-30): Presented with a 2nd serve, Delpo sends the return long. That kind of mistake is quite costly at the end of a big match like this. After a couple of deuces, Federer ends up holding.
Momentum check: It all seems to be with Federer, and Del Potro’s gas light seems to have come on.
Point of the match: It’s the first point of the 4-all game. Delpo correctly executes a tweener lob, Federer hits a ridiculous squash shot back, and moments later, passes Delpo after the Argie comes to net behind a so-so approach. However, Delpo recovers and wins 4 points in a row. Crunch time coming for Roger.
Crunch time -Roger Federer serving to stay in the tournament: It’s 30-15 after Federer masterfully puts away a dropper when Delpo’s return landed quite short. Moments later, at 40-15, we have a 2-letcord point that ends with Delpo having ample time to hit a BH DTL pass. 40-30. Federer holds after a very good CC BH lands close to the baseline and forces Delpo’s error.
Crunch time – Del Potro serving at 5-all: It’s 0-15 after Federer gets a chance to come to net and put away an easy smash. But then Del Potro levels it at 15-15 after moving Federer around until the forced error comes. Federer once again gets the upper hand via a great CC FH, puts away a FH DTL. 15-30. Delpo panics a bit when he sees a short return by Federer, goes I-I with his FH, and it misses. Which leads to…
Break Points for Roger Federer (5-5, 15-40): 2nd serve for the first one, and Federer crushes the FH return, triggering the error. Federer breaks and will serve for the match!
Crunch time – Roger Federer will serve for a spot in the WTFs semifinals: It’s 0-15 after a Federer UFE, but 15-15 after a Federer SW out wide. Then Federer goes for a FH DTL from a tricky angle, and nets it. 15-30. SW out wide, once again, so it’s 30-30. 2nd serve…Federer survives an early-rally shank, but then Delpo hits a beauty of an angled running CC FH, which brings…
Break Point for Juan Martín Del Potro (5-6, 30-40): It is saved when Delpo goes for a BH DTL and nets it. Didn’t seem overly committed to that shot. Moments later, it’s Match Point #1 for Federer: which is converted with an Ace up the T.
Game, Set and Match to Roger Federer, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5
Here are your final match stats:
The Verdict on Roger Federer:
The best thing you can say about Federer in that match is that he fought to the death for that win. It sure wasn’t pretty for long stretches of it, but when he needed it most, he found enough good tennis to take advantage of Del Potro’s sloppiness and claim his place in the semifinals. I thought his defense was superb today, as was his net play and his serving. Quite a few FHs went astray, but that’s par for the course these days. The slicing of his BH proved a very useful tactic against Delpo, since it neutralized the Argie’s power more often than not. But now comes a much different challenge in the shape of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
The Verdict on Juan Martín del Potro:
He had plenty of chances to take this match, no? Juan Martín was up an early break in every set today, and ended up winning only one of them. Delpo also ends up losing two straight matches to Federer after taking their first encounter of this 3-week stretch in Basel. Much like against Novak Djokovic, Delpo was sloppy at the tail end of the match, and it sure cost him. And really, once Federer got back on serve in the decider, the match resembled their Olympic duel in a way: it seemed like one man was hell-bent on finding a way through, whereas the other was merely trying to survive. That difference in attitude tends to show up in the big points, and it sure did today. Delpo remains a huge question mark for 2014: will he truly become part of the elite of men’s tennis, or will he stagnate as the occasional threat that he currently is?