INDIAN WELLS, United States, March 19, (AFP): 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.
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.”
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.
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 semifinal test from Croatia’s Borna Coric.
Federer’s five Indian Wells titles included last year, when he beat fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka.
Meanwhile, unseeded Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese player to win the Indian Wells final, routing Russian Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday for her first WTA Tour title.
World number 44 Osaka rolled over Kasatkina, breaking her serve four times and winning the battle of the 20-year-old rising stars in just 70 minutes.
“I just knew that she was going to fight for every point, too,” said Osaka. “So I couldn’t afford to lose points based on nerves, and I had to keep making the right decisions.”
Osaka captured the title on her first match point by blasting a backhand into the open side of the court.
The Japanese dynamo improved to 13-4 on the season two days after her biggest previous win, a dominating semi-final triumph over world number one Simona Halep.
She was only the fourth unseeded player to reach the Indian Wells final, with the most recent before her being Kim Clijsters in 2005.
The loss ends a brilliant run in the California desert by Kasatkina, who was playing in her second final in a row after a runner-up finish in Dubai.
“She was much better today than me, so she really deserved to win,” Kasatkina said. “Of course, we were both nervous at the beginning, because the biggest finals so far.
“But during the match, she was able to manage her nerves and stuff, and I was still a little bit tight during the match. So it is what it is.”
Kasatkina was two points from defeat against Venus Williams in the semifinals but rallied for the upset triumph.
Kasatkina, who wasn’t even born when Williams first competed at Indian Wells, said she really felt the nerves getting to her on the big stage in the final.
She called her coach to come down from the stands for advice at one point but couldn’t remember after the match what he told her.
“I mean, I already forgot what he told me. I was so nervous, that I really forgot,” she said.
Osaka blasted five aces, made three double faults and won 79 percent of her first-serve points.
“I wasn’t really trying to hit hard today,” said Osaka, who was born in Osaka, Japan, but is a dual citizen after living in America since the age of three.
“I felt like it would be better for her to take my pace.
“So I wanted her to do whatever she wanted to do and I was going to sit back and see what she does.”
Like Osaka, Kasatkina was playing in her first Indian Wells final. This was the first time both Indian Wells finalists were under age 21 since Serena Williams beat Clijsters in 2001.
The opening set was even until Osaka blasted two aces to take a 4-3 lead. She then broke Kasatkina to make it 5-3 and finished it off with another strong service game.
Osaka pounced on Kasatkina from the beginning of the second set, starting with an opening break of serve.
She also broke Kasatkina to go up 4-1 with another precision forehand winner down the line and never looked back.
Kasatkina is now 1-3 in WTA singles finals, winning in Charleston last year and finishing runner-up last year in Moscow and this year at Dubai.