Juan Martin del Potro brought Roger Federer’s five-year dominance at the US Open to an end at Flushing Meadows – and then pledged to work even harder to emulate the world number one.
The 20-year-old sixth seed became the first man since fellow Argentinian David Nalbandian in the 2003 fourth round to beat Federer at Flushing Meadows, winning a grand slam in his first final and breaking the Swiss star’s 40-match winning streak.
Watched by 1977 champion Guillermo Vilas, the only other Argentinian to have won the US Open, an emotional del Potro sealed a 3-6 7-6 (7/5) 4-6 7-6 (7/4) 6-2 victory over Federer at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I had two dreams, the first one to win the US Open and the second one to be like Roger,” said del Potro.
“One is done, but I need to improve a lot to be like (Federer). This is amazing for South America, especially for me, and I’m very happy to be here with this crown – with these people, on this court – and I think this will be in my mind forever.”
Having been beaten six times in previous meetings by Federer, del Potro denied the world number one a third grand slam of the year as the US Open stretched into a 15th day because of heavy rain that all but washed out play on Friday and much of Saturday.
The victory in four hours and six minutes stopped Federer becoming the first man since American Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win the tournament six times in a row.
It also completed a grand slam season in which Federer, 28, had begun the year in tears as he lost the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal but then won a first French Open title and broke Pete Sampras’ record of all-time grand slam wins at Wimbledon with his 15th career title.
“I would like to congratulate Juan Martin – he had an unbelievable tournament,” said a gracious Federer. “I had a great one myself, but he was the best.
“Of course, I would have loved to have won. But I’ve had an unbelievable run here and I would have never thought five or six years ago that I would go on a 40-match run here. It’s been an amazing run for me.”
Both men agreed the second set had been the turning point, del Potro saving two set-points with Federer 5-4 up before coming back to win the tie-break and level the match at one-set all in front of a vocal crowd pulling for the underdog and featuring a large Argentinian contingent.
“When I won the second set, I thought if I can continue playing the same way maybe I have a chance to win,” said del Potro.
“But then when I lost the third set, I started to think bad things. It was so difficult to keep fighting, but one more time the crowd and the fans helped me to fight until the last point. I have to say thank you to everyone for that.”
Federer’s serve proved to be his major failing. He could only manage a 54% first service rate and delivered 11 double-faults as del Potro clocked up 37 forehand winners – while the five-time champion converted only five of 22 break-points and committed 62 unforced errors.
“I got off to a pretty good start and had things under control as well in the second set – but I think that one cost me the match eventually,” said Federer.
“I had many chances before that to make the difference, so it was tough luck today. but I thought Juan Martin played great. He hung in there and gave himself chances and in the end was the better man.”