Del Potro In First Semi at Major -- American Wildcards Win Mixed Doubles
September 10, 2009 -- For his first walkabout on Arthur Ashe Stadium court Juan Martin del Potro looked pretty comfortable. So comfortable that he came from a set down to win his quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic, a man with whom del Potro literally sees eye to eye. They are both six-foot-six-inch prime tennis athletes. They are both twenty years old, but the older one - del Potro - will turn the legal age five days before his Croatian opponent.
However, the Argentine's edge with age had little to do with his victory today. What mattered were his perseverance and his fighting spirit. What mattered was how proficiently del Potro took hold of the match's reins in the second set. Once he proved to himself that his engines had ignited, that his forehand was crackling on all eight cylinders, he didn't look back.
Del Potro won an impressive 9 out of 10 games, at that point of the match. He would run off 17 out of the last 20 games by the time he shook hands with Cilic at the net. If conversions of break chances are a sign of quality tennis, then del Potro got the prize. He went 8 for 8, in his four set win 46 63 62 61.
However, the first set didn't indicate that del Potro would even compete well. He was thoroughly drubbed by the gangly Croatian. On every side of the tennis game, Cilic outshined the sixth seed del Potro.
Cilic secured the first break of the match with a stab cross-court dipper that slipped past the big man in black. You might have labeled the shot a fluke, but Cilic's passing shots remained consistently accurate in the initial set.
Cilic orchestrated his strategy with a profound sense of ease, which seemed out of place given that this was his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. He changed the ball's direction well. His second serve twisted and spun weirdly as it approached del Potro. You could almost admit he played beautifully, not like Roger Federer's beautiful tennis with the perception that he glides around the court wafting up to the highest row of Ashe stadium, along the outer rings of galaxy seating. Cilic is too lanky to evoke praise of that nature. But the Croatian tennis phenom came awfully close, as he won the first set.
So while Cilic was on top of the match the thoughts came... what if he upset del Potro like he upset the #2 seed Andy Murray? There was nothing to say he wouldn't or couldn't, given the match's trajectory. Del Potro must have been giving himself an ultimatum before the second set started - get over it, get on with it, get to the semifinals.
But the second set began like a stale rerun. Cilic broke in the first game, del Potro donating two double faults. These two men had last played in Melbourne early this year at the Australian Open. Del Potro beat Cilic. Maybe that was the reminder del Potro grabbed onto as he tried to convince himself that his chances were dwindling. Del Potro then broke back and held, tying the set at 3-games all. He continued to break Cilic, as unforced errors piled up for his bewildered opponent.
Del Potro did win this match. He controlled the points by mastering the ball and its direction. Cilic's first serve percentage was 59% for the match compared to 66% for del Potro. However, by the end of the fourth and final set Cilic's winning percentage of points on his second serve had plummeted to 9%. His winners/unforced errors ratio accelerated, too. He ended up with almost twice as many unforced errors as winners.
Cilic felt the pressure of del Potro's assault. The ball came at him faster and quicker. He couldn't get out of its path soon enough to produce any shot that would hurt the Argentine or push him off balance. Cilic's footwork slowed, as if fear had clasped his ankles. He backed off the baseline. He rushed shots, his timing of the ball less than optimal. He contacted the ball too early and popped up as he hit groundstrokes, trying to force his game's return to the fluidity he remembered from set one.
It didn't come together for Marin Cilic today. He has proven, though, that he is a serious contender and a man who has serious intentions of doing more next time he comes to the U. S. Open.
Juan Martin del Potro is the third Argentine to advance to the semifinals of the U. S. Open. The other two are David Nalbandian and Guillermo Vilas. Del Potro will honor their spirited sense of competition with him as he awaits his next match.
Americans Win Mixed Doubles
Americans Travis Parrott and Carly Gullikson won their first Mixed Doubles Grand Slam today when they defeated the heavily favored team of veterans Leander Paes and Cara Black. Parrott and Gullikson joined forces right before the tournament began almost two weeks ago. The USTA Seeding Committee gave them a wildcard, after accessing their individual records and their records in doubles. Parrott and Gullikson defeated a bevy of strong mixed doubles teams as they worked their way through the draw, such as Liezel Huber (#1 in women's doubles) and Mahesh Bhupathi, Daniel Nestor (#2 in men's doubles) and Sania Mirza, and Nadia Petrova and Max Mirnyi. The two lucky Americans won $150,000 for their achievement, which they will share.