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Juan Martin del Potro stuns Federer for U.S. Open men's title.
Published Sep. 15, 2009

In the tennis version of solving Rubik's cube, Juan Martin del Potro figured out Roger Federer on Monday night.

The 20-year-old Argentine diffused the 15-time Grand Slam winner's magical powers with a poisonous forehand and mental steadiness to win the U.S. Open men's title in a physical five sets, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

"I did my dream, and it's unbelievable moment," said del Potro, ranked sixth in the world. "Everything is perfect. ...It's my best sensation ever in my life. It's too early to explain. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, I will believe in this."

What began as another exhibition of Federer legerdemain - impossible gets, lovely angled volleys, Houdini-worthy escapes - was soon enough turned into hard labor by the rangy 6-foot-6 del Potro, whose chain-gang-strength forehand was turning big rocks into little ones all night.

And Federer, always so cool, so consistent, so in control of his emotions and his matches, let the championship slip from his grasp.

He railed at the chair umpire. His legs grew weary. His double-faults mounted. He could not figure out a way to stop del Potro from pounding forehand after forehand past him.

Yet, he was two points from victory in the fourth set. But he, quite simply, fell apart.

"Maybe I look back and have some regrets about it," said Federer, never before beaten by anyone other than Rafael Nadal in a major final. "But, you know, you can't have them all and can't always play your best."

Somehow, del Potro, who defeated Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, never seemed intimidated by the setting or the man many consider the greatest tennis player in history.

"When I would have a dream, it was to win the U.S. Open, and the other one is to be like Roger. One is done," del Potro said during the on-court ceremony.

Then, addressing Federer directly, del Potro added: "I need to improve a lot to be like you. I'd like to congratulate you for fighting till the last point."

The usually unflappable Federer argued with chair umpire Jake Garner during a changeover, using a profanity and saying, "Don't tell me to be quiet, okay? When I want to talk, I talk."

He also got steamed while up a set and serving at 5-4 in the second. Del Potro tried a forehand passing shot that was called wide, but he challenged, and the replay system showed he was right. Federer kept glancing at the mark the shot left on the blue court, even into the next game, and del Potro wound up stealing the set.

"That one cost me the match, eventually," Federer said.

Del Potro, meanwhile, managed to have the time of his young life, high-fiving front-row fans after winning one point and reveling in the soccer-style serenades of "Ole!" ringing through the stadium.

The 4-hour, 6-minute match was the first U.S. Open final to go five sets since 1999, and there were no early signs to indicate it would be this competitive, much less end with del Potro down on his back, chest heaving, tears welling. He is the fifth-youngest U.S. Open champion and the first man from Argentina to win the event since Guillermo Vilas in 1977. Vilas was in the stands Monday night.

"When I lay down to the floor, many things come to my mind," del Potro said of the match's ending. "First my family and my friends and everything. I don't know how I can explain, because it's my dream."

* * *

Uneventful doubles win for Williamses

Her doubles championship brought some closure to what has been an awkward, tumultuous Open for Serena Williams.

Williams and sister Venus teamed up for a 6-2, 6-2 victory over defending champions Cara Black and Liezel Huber to win their 10th Grand Slam doubles title, and first at Flushing Meadows since 1999. Not surprisingly, the sisters answered very few questions about doubles when it was over.

During a postmatch interview on the court, ESPN2's Patrick McEnroe prodded Serena about her profane outburst at the end of her loss to Kim Clijsters in the singles semifinals and its aftermath. Williams had issued an apology shortly before the doubles match, saying she is "a woman of great pride, faith and integrity, and I admit when I'm wrong."

It was a more contrite statement than the one she released the day before, when she was fined $10,000 for acting in a "threatening manner," tournament director Jim Curley said.

But when McEnroe tried to ask her "what clicked in your head" that led to the new statement, the crowd started booing.

"I think what the crowd is saying is, 'Patrick, let's move on,'" Venus Williams said.

By the numbers

2,200 Days since Roger Federer had last lost at the U.S. Open (in 2003, in the fourth round, to Argentine David Nalbandian)

40-0 Federer's record in that span

13-1 Federer's record now in Grand Slam finals against everyone but Rafael Nadal

1-6 Juan Martin del Potro's career record against Federer

1 Grand Slam title for del Potro

1 Grand Slam final for del Potro