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Pro Tennis Showcase
November 28, 2009

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2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals
November 28, 2009
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

First Federer Defeat by Davydenko, del Potro Passes Soderling
November 28, 2009 -- Someday a player will come along and drive Roger Federer from his throne. Today Nikolay Davydenko tapped the king on the shoulder with his first ever win over the Swiss in their thirteen encounters, during the first semifinal match at the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals. So much for predictions based on head-to-head records.
The thought for Federer fans, that he will someday fall from his high grace, is unpleasant and tinged with sadness. The reality will be even harder to handle. People love Roger Federer.
Many here at The O2 Arena traveled thousands of miles to see him and his smooth aggressive style of tennis. They also came to witness Federer, the man. They imagine him as a father, husband, friend, son and philanthropist. By gazing at him they can experience him a little on this theatrical stage called a tennis court. They indulge and why not; Roger Federer is their idol.
The man who could make Federer's career uncomfortable is probably here in London. Nikolay Davydenko certainly showed the world his prowess. He displayed footwork to die for, accurate groundstrokes, and a steel-trap mentality. Today, too, he was the one who took better advantage of break point opportunities; he converted four out of five... 80%. One in the third set to go up 6/5 and serve for the match, which he won 62 46 75.
Although Roger Federer holds winning records over all the semifinalists, one in particular has shone how he can dominate. Juan Martin del Potro or Delpo as he's known. Head-to-head Federer has a 6-2, to date. The last two wins were the Argentines. Winning two matches against the greatest player of all time doesn't guarantee dominance. It indicates a potential trend toward dominance of Federer. However, Roger Federer dominated the whole game of tennis.
But del Potro has a complete package and those curious accoutrements that come to life at the optimal moments. He can elevate his game when necessary. He can push Federer around the court and damage him off the ground. His serve is accurate and fast. His first serve average speed was 128 mph, in the first set against Federer in qualification. He wears down opponents. We saw him do that against Federer at the U. S. Open. We saw hints at The French Open in their semifinal. Del Potro, though, will have to remain healthy. For a big man, the risks are high for injury.
"I think he's done incredibly well the last 18 months," Federer said about del Potro. "I think he's really, really improved a lot. I didn't think he was going to become that good. Back then he was playing more like a little guy. Today he's finally using his size to his advantage. Seems like the sky's the limit for him at the moment."
Del Potro loves the came of tennis. He is not on tour for personal reasons, completely. In interviews he is quietly humble and grateful for his ascension. On court he doesn't showboat or act the entitled one, although both traits could be ones possessed by a champion. But for the next star to maintain the consistency, as has Federer, he must endure the game and transcend its idiosyncrasies. Hitting winners off the greatest is one thing. Walking the road less traveled in tennis is another matter. The player to discover their Holy Grail will make the difference. Del Potro is on its trail.
Nikolay Davydenko's perseverance paid off today -- lucky #13. He has played brilliant tennis in London, inspired tennis. Federer handed him the first set, after playing a first game that wowed fans. This match was his 7th semifinal in eight appearances. If he had won, he would have played for his 5th title. The Russian wasn't going to roll over, though. He broke Federer three times in this opening set. It was because of the errors in this set that Federer lost the match.
In the second at 4/5 these two men, who take the ball earlier than any others on tour, had it out. The quickness of the points was riveting. You could see the very slight edge Federer possessed in ball pickup. He connected a split second sooner than did his opponent. It was enough to force errors. Here, Federer succeeded, using only his second break opportunity to win the set.
The first point in the third was just about the best tennis ever! Exchanges were lightening quick. Both players stood on or inside their baseline. Angles were so extreme, they both looked lost at times. These were in the throat thrills. Fans sensed a tiebreak, but at 5-games all Federer lost his serve. He looked down at his shoes. He was rattled.
Federer tried to extend the set to a tiebreak, when he held an advantage point in this game. However, Davydenko's serving was precise and damaging. One caught the line out wide to Federer's forehand. One jammed him.
You can never tell when the scale will tip. A 12-1 record sounds rock solid, one-sided. However, when that one "1" comes at the year-ending semifinals the disappointment for Federer and the joy for Davydenko must be intense.
Robin Soderling is the surprise of the tournament. A surprise because he is the sole active alternate, replacing Andy Roddick well in advance of the event. Soderling has surprised people with his tennis. He was the only player yesterday who didn't have to wait for a mathematician to secretly calculate games won in order to pass through to the semifinals. Juan Martin del Potro didn't know if he'd made it, even after he defeated Roger Federer.
The second semifinal was a match of giant men with giant groundstrokes and giant serves. Soderling looked as if he had started badly, going down three break points on his first service game. He saved them all, plus one. Their serving percentages were phenomenal in this set, too. Soderling with 77% and del Potro with 83% of points won on first serves. They would remain nearly this high throughout the match.
The tiebreak was all Soderling, though. Del Potro donated almost all of Soderling's points on unforced errors. Tucking the first set under his belt surely helped Soderling's confidence grow, as they went to the second.
Both players were steady as rocks in the second. Del Potro had one chance to break but was foiled when his opponent served an ace, then won the game. However, a little luck came to the Argentine in the 8th game and he got one up on the Swede. Without giving Soderling a moment to gather himself, del Potro won the first set 6/3. With both men serving so well, his last two games were giant ones.
Things looked bleak for del Potro after the sixth game in the third. He was down 2/4. But he upped his level of play, hit the ball deeper and came right back to even his chances of advancing to the final.
A tiebreak determined the winner.
And unlike the first set debacle, Juan Martin del Potro stood his ground. He won the first point off Soderling after a 24-shot rally with a backhand up the line. His ability to mentally clamp down was evident. At the first, and only, changeover he was up 4/2. He hit an unreturnable served timed at 132 mph, drew an unforced error from the Swede and ended the match with an ace. Very fitting.
Only a couple points separated del Potro from Soderling this evening. Their first serving percentages were stellar, but points won on second serves went to del Potro: 64%.
This will be del Potro's first final at the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals. Del Potro and Davydenko faced off last year at the Tennis Masters Cup in China, during the round robin qualifications. Davydenko won in straight sets and leads their head-to-head 2-1. Del Potro was slightly injured during that tournament, however, and was facing the finals in Davis Cup soon afterward. His teammate David Nalbandian was verbally dispirited by his teammate's choice to fly to Shanghai then back to Argentina, threatening the home team's readiness and health against Spain. Del Potro was unable to play the fifth, and deciding, rubber of the tie because of injury. Jose Acasuso lost to Fernando Verdasco., and Argentina lost the Davis Cup.
Throughout 2009 del Potro has built his brand. Since they have not played for a year, either man could be crowned the winner tomorrow. Del Potro's firepower could overwhelm the Russian, however Davydenko has withstood the wrath of Federer for the first time in his tennis career. Confidence like that could set him apart, even from the current U. S. Open champion.

Earlier Columns from this Event:
November 27, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Nadal Comes up With Nothing, Defending Champ Djokovic Out
November 26, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Federer, del Potro Top Group A
November 25, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Djokovic Disappoints, Nadal Out of Contention
November 24, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Federer Clinches Year-end #1 Ranking, Delpo Squeaks Past Verdasco
November 23, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: The Not-So-Year-End Men's Tournament, London

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