LONDON — Best match I’ve ever seen at Wimbledon; no doubt about that.
Then again, it was the first match I’ve ever seen at Wimbledon. When you’ve got Bud Collins on your team for half a million years, you don’t muscle into the Wimbledon action. You leave that to The Man.
I figured I’d spread it around. You know, catch Roger Federer for a set at Centre Court, maybe see Maria Sharapova on Court 1 and wouldn’t it be cool to see the Bryan twins on Court 2? And if I weren’t tennissed-out after all that, there would still be opportunities to see Serena, Djokovic and Murray before the night was over.
But sometimes things just happen. How did I know I was going to fall into an Event? How did I know that in order to get himself into Sunday’s gold medal match that Roger Federer would need to play for 4 hours and 25 minutes?
That’s how look it took him to subdue Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. His 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 19-17 conquest of the 2009 US Open champ was something a bit out of the ordinary.
“I definitely got the sense this was something special,” said Federer, who slumped over the net before embracing his foe after the exhausting match was over. “The deeper I went into the match, it was special to be in a match like this.”
Federer had previously beaten del Potro five times this season, but he found the task of beating the towering Argentine in a guaranteed medal match a bit dodgier (when in Wimbledon, it’s acceptable to adopt the lingo).
It was throwback tennis for the second time this week. There are no third-set tiebreakers. You play on and on until someone gets up by two sets. This wasn’t even the longest match of the tournament. On July 31, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Canada’s Milos Raonic by the score of 6-3, 3-6, 25-23. But neither of them is Federer so it didn’t resonate the way this one will.
It was evident from the start that Federer was not going to have his way with the 6-foot-7-inch Argentine. Del Potro broke Federer at 4-3 to set the forces in motion that won him the first set. His great reach enabled him to get to some things that many of Federer’s foes never reach.
Federer contributed to the situation with a number of uncharacteristically poor shots. He flat-out mis-hit at least eight shots, many of them in highly inopportune situations.
It took him until the 19th game of the third set before he was able to break del Potro’s serve, and then he was broken right back. But he was able to win the second set by a tiebreaker.
Being Roger Federer, he was able to work around the mis-hits, largely due to an effective serve. Del Potro is supposed to be the bigger hitter, but Federer had 24 aces to del Potro’s 11, and he also dominated far more games, pitching nine shutouts, including seven in the third set alone. Del Potro only had two love-games in the entire match.
Federer was serving second in the third set. He was simply unable to put his opponent away, even after finally breaking serve in the 19th game of the third set. After reaching break point, Federer was the beneficiary of the first truly mis-hit shot del Potro had made in the entire match, the big guy popping up a return halfway to Big Ben.
Serving for the match, Federer could not have played worse, losing a love-game.
Federer had another great chance in the 29th game when he had del Potro at triple break point. This time del Potro rallied by getting the next five points.
Modern players are not used to these Marathon sets. “After a while you kind of hope your opponent will choke and just play bad,” admitted Federer. “But that didn’t happen.”
No, in the end del Potro simply faded, hitting a poor backhand into the net to give Federer a service break and then hitting another bad backhand over the end line to give him the game, set and match at 19-17.
Number one, it didn’t rain. Number two, I got to see this match. Pretty good first trip to Wimbledon.