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ROGER FEDERER

Juan Del Potro downs Federer to claim Indian Wells crown

Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro stunned top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/2) Sunday to win his first Indian Wells title and second consecutive ATP crown.

Juan Del Potro downs Federer to claim Indian Wells crown
Roger Federer had his best start to a season ever in 2018. Photo: AFP

The 29-year-old from Argentina handed Federer his first match defeat of 2018 and extended his own win streak to 11 matches, including a title run earlier this month at Acapulco.

“I'm still shaking,” Del Potro said. “It's difficult to describe with words. It's like a dream.”d

Del Potro, nagged by wrist injuries throughout his career, survived three match points before claiming the championship in a third-set tie-breaker, ending a two hour, 42 minute marathon contest.

“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and this level of tennis. We played great tennis today,” Del Potro said.

“I just want to keep winning titles like this if I can.”

Del Potro won the first five points of the deciding tie-breaker then closed it out when Swiss superstar Federer, who had won a career-best 17 straight matches to start the year, smacked a forehand long.

It was an emotional match for both players as each took turns questioning the chair umpire. Del Potro urged him to stop the pro-Federer crowd from making noise on his serve and an irritated Federer also had a couple of lively conversations with the umpire.

“I don't remember half of it,” said Federer. “I was trying to pump myself up more, get energy for me. It had no effect on the outcome.”

Del Potro was competing in his first Indian Wells final since 2013, when he lost to Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

It was Del Potro's seventh victory over Federer in 25 career meetings, one of those wins coming in the 2009 US Open final.

“I always play good against him. I won a couple of finals and lost a couple of finals. In the end I was lucky to win. We played great tennis today,” Del Potro said.

World number eight Del Potro is back in the rankings top 10 after dropping to 1,045th before beginning his comeback from three left wrist surgeries in 2016.

“I am excited to see what is next,” he said. “I am still surprising myself and I want to keep surprising the tennis tour,” Del Potro said.

Federer blasted 10 aces but had five double faults and his serve was broken twice.

'It should sting'

He said it is going to take a little longer than normal to get over this one.

“It should sting,” Federer said. “The question is how long? It is disappointing talking about a great match like this and losing.

“You move on. There's no time to dwell over it. I see the positives at the end of the day.”

Federer survived a match point in the second set tiebreaker to force the third.

“It was a lot of chances at either end,” he said. “He should have maybe closed it first in the second set I believe. Even early in the second set I think he had break point chances.

“But I was able to find my game and get out of that game.”

In the 10th game of the third set Federer returned the favour with three match points of his own but Del Potro timed his forehand shots perfectly.

“It was disappointing,” Federer said. “Juan Martin was a bit better at the end. It was maybe a point here or there, maybe a shot, maybe a forehand, maybe a chip.”

Federer, the oldest world number one in ATP history at 36, entered the final having dropped just one set, in a difficult semi-final test from Croatia's Borna Coric.

Federer's five Indian Wells titles included last year, when he beat fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.

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