Del Potro shows Murray how it’s done
Monday night’s US Open victory for Juan MartÃƒÂn del Potro was deserved, the celebrations were understandable, and his moment of joy was probably priceless.
That he beat Federer was a shock in itself, given the run of form which Federer has embarked on post-French Open; fatherhood and marriage joys, he has appeared almost back to his best – that shot against Djokovic perhaps the ultimate vindication, not only of his form, but of his confidence and outrageous talent.
But, bar the first set and a half, it was not Federer who was running the show; it was the young pretender del Potro who was the headline act. Granted, there was some luck along the way, a 30-30 point at 5-4 in the Second Set where a forehand down the line was called out, but on appeal proved in.
That was the shot in the arm he needed, displaying a go-it-for-broke mentality, and a forehand which suddenly caused Federer’s impenetrable defenses to constantly buckle, del Potro came through, and after five hectic and exhausting sets he was the victor.
Some would argue that perhaps, it was deserved.
Del Potro has undoubtedly been the breakout star of this tournament, playing with a sheer power and consistency which few had expected from him a year ago. Suddenly a place at the top table of men’s tennis is not a possibility, it is a certainty.
For British fans, Monday night will have made intriguing viewing. For if del Potro’s place at the top will come at the expense of someone, bar Rafael Nadal’s continued injury concerns, then for them the worry will be: could it be at the expense of Murray?
This year’s final made a fitting contrast from one year ago at last year’s final. The template is the same, same guy on one of the net, same unproven, yet incredibly talented guy on the other side. The uncomfortable fact for Murray and British tennis fans is that where Murray failed, del Potro succeeded.
Harking back twelve months, and it appears even more fitting. Murray that year had just defeated Nadal (same opponent as, you guessed it, del Potro), though not a Nadal operating at his peak, he was not the forlorn figure so weakened by the fragility of his body.
Furthermore he was coming up against Federer at one of his weaker moments, a year spent chasing Nadal and contracting glandular fever had made his chase for the Grand Slam record appear, for some, doubtful.
Yet in the big occasion, Murray failed to deliver.
Perhaps it was the exhaustion of having to face down Nadal, perhaps it was the nerves of a first Grand Slam final, but whatever it was, Murray could not match Federer’s levels that day and departed, chastened, but feted as the star of tomorrow.
But twelve months on and tomorrow is here but it is not Murray receiving the accolades. This year, Murray has not lived up to expectations in the Slams, disappointing performances at the Australian Open-losing to Verdasco, a semi-final loss at Wimbledon, albeit against an inspired Roddick, and a loss to Cilic here.
The questions are being asked with every growing defeat, creating its own pressure and a sense of expectation on Murray that he can ill-afford to have.
But the problem for Murray is that among the prestigious company he keeps, with regard to Grand Slam victories, he is all alone. Federer has 15, Nadal has 7, Djokovic has 1, new boy del Potro has one, even Roddick has 1. It is only he who has yet to capture one of the biggest prizes.
Furthermore, the success of del Potro at the US Open – a younger player than Murray – stands in sharp contrast to Murray’s performance last year, if only for the composure he displayed in the final.
The worrying part, not only for Murray but for the rest of Men’s Tennis, is that del Potro has himself admitted he can only get better. Which for Murray makes the task of securing that elusive Grand Slam even harder.
While Murray has achieved plenty so far in the game, the experience of winning that one Slam is one that has so far eluded him. As he watched del Potro lifting the trophy, there will undoubtedly have been joy for his compatriot, but more than a pang of jealousy as he waits for his time to come, and thinks back to one year ago when he could have been in del Potro’s shoes.