In a final that many predicted coming into the tournament world #1 Roger Federer faces off against recent Acapulco champion Juan Martin del Potro. Federer is undefeated so far this year, having gone 17-0 in 2018. His opponent’s season got off to a slower start as del Potro dealt with problems off the court, but he has found some real form of late and has a ten match long winning streak himself. But who will lift the title?
Federer and del Potro have a long-established rivalry which began over a decade ago at Wimbledon in the round of 64 with Federer winning in straight sets. They have clashed a further 23 times since then, with the Swiss leading the head-to-head 18-6. But del Potro has had his fair share of success, including winning their biggest ever match, the 2009 US Open final. The Argentine twice came back from a set down to deny Federer in five and lift his only Major title so far.
They also met four times last year, their first clashes since 2013. Federer won the first, in Miami in the third round in straight sets 6-3 6-4. But del Potro shocked Federer at the US Open later in the year in the quarterfinals as Federer’s wait for a sixth US Open went on. Federer had his revenge in the Shanghai semifinals and Basel title match, coming from a set behind to win on both occasions and deny del Potro.
Federer’s path to the final
Federer began his Indian Wells campaign in the second round after receiving a first round bye. There he met Federico Delbonis, who had won their only previous encounter in 2013 in Hamburg. But the Federer of 2018 is a quite different proposition and despite a rain delay and some late Delbonis pressure that required Federer to save a set point in the second, the world #1 came through in straights. He then destroyed Bercy finalist Filip Krajinovic 6-2 6-1 to make the fourth round.
Jeremy Chardy, the world #100, gave his best in that match and made Federer work for his 7-5 6-4 win but the outcome never really looked in doubt. In the quarterfinals Federer faced the highly rated young Korean Hyeon Chung in a rematch of their recent Australian Open semifinal. Chung matched Federer for much of the first set, but a late break went against him and he faded from the contest thereafter. In the last four, Federer faced Coric.
The Croatian channelled the spirit of Djokovic for much of the match, putting relentless pressure on the Swiss. A break at 5-5 in the first set saw him take the set and he went a break up immediately at the start of the second. But Federer broke twice in succession from down 2-4 to level the match. Coric undeterred, tried again and twice led by a break in the decider only for Federer to recover. When his chance came to seal the match he made no mistake leaving Coric to rue missed opportunities.
Del Potro’s path to the final
The ‘Tower of Tandil’, seeded sixth, also received a first round bye and began against Alex De Minaur of Australia. De Minaur had a thrilling start to the season which included a run to the final in Brisbane but was brushed aside by del Potro’s power, winning just three games. Del Potro then impressed in a battling straight sets win against David Ferrer, defeating the Spaniard 6-4 7-6. He overcame a slow start to recover from being a set and a break down to defeat his compatriot Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round.
The world #8 backed that up with another three set win against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals. The German came out firing, and early on his feathery touch was enough to tame del Potro’s power. But such is that power that it eventually had to tell and del Potro fought back to triumph 3-6 6-3 6-4. In the semifinals he had far too much for Milos Raonic, who never quite got to grips with the match. Two breaks in each set sealed a 6-2 6-3 win for del Potro.
How do they match up?
Unlike in his previous two rounds, Federer will not be playing a defensively minded opponent. Chung and Coric, whilst not lacking in attacking quality, are primarily counterpunchers. Del Potro, as Federer will know, needs no invitation to drop the hammer. His forehand is the most powerful currently in the game, if not of all time, and the Argentine has been using it to fearsome effect so far this week. Raonic was taken apart by that very shot.
Federer, however, is a better mover than the Canadian, and del Potro will have to be more patient than he was against Raonic. It will be interesting to see how often Federer moves into the forecourt against del Potro. He approached into the del Potro backhand in both Shanghai and Basel, knowing that del Potro would be unlikely to be able to pass him. However, del Potro has been hitting his backhand with such confidence that Federer may well have to abandon that strategy.
Federer was the pre-tournament favourite, but he hasn’t been altogether convincing so far in Indian Wells. He was arguably lucky to escape his match with Coric, and whilst it is a testament to his ability to win matches, it also suggests he can be beaten. And if anyone is in position to beat him it’s del Potro. The Argentine has the weaponry, the belief and the knowhow. The slower court surface also favours him. Del Potro to win his first Masters 1000 in three sets.
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