Roger Federer’s incredible winning streak to start 2018 came to an end in a thrilling BNP Paribas Open final on Monday morning (AEDT) that saw tempers flare.
Federer returned to the world No.1 ranking after victories at the Australian Open and in Rotterdam but his 17-match streak was halted by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells.
In the final of what is widely regarded as tennis’ ‘fifth grand slam’, Del Potro saved three match points to win a classic and tense encounter 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-2).
“I feel frustrated, you know, that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer, who was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set.
“Serving 40-15, any game I probably win … I don’t know what the stat is … 90 something per cent. So it should sting.
“The question is how long? It won’t long, but it’s disappointing talking about a great match like this, losing, even though I was right there … it’s a tough one.”
In typically classy fashion, Federer also praised del Potro for his performance.
Del Potro is on a winning streak of his own, having now succeeded in 11 successive matches, culminating in titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells.
The injury-prone big man has beaten Federer in seven of 25 attempts, including a famous triumph in the 2009 US Open final, but he has found it difficult to reach those levels in recent years due to troubles with his body.
“I’m happy for Juan Marti … it was a great match, honestly,” Federer said.
“You deserve it – you were the better player at the end. Well done and enjoy the moment.”
Both players get angry
Victory would have given Federer his 28th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
For Del Potro, this was his first, and he had to do it in a match that saw Federer enjoy so much crowd support the former complained to the umpire about it.
“I’m still shaking. It’s difficult to describe with words. It’s like a dream,” he said.
“After all my problems, after all my surgeries, I couldn’t believe I’m here winning a Masters 1000 and beating Roger. It’s amazing.”
Speaking about the crowd during the match, del Potro yelled at umpire Fergus Murphy: “The people are screaming when I miss a first serve.”
He urged Murphy to keep the crowd quiet, adding: “Just do it.”
Federer was annoyed with the result, as the umpire regularly intervened during the match.
A tale of blown chances
Del Potro – who has had three wrist operations in recent years – dug deep to win the first set and had a match point of his own in the second.
But he blew it, with Federer finally converting his seventh set point to level proceedings.
It set up a thrilling final set and Federer was next to blow match points, failing to convert three when serving for the contest, before a pair of double-faults proved crucial in del Potro’s triumph.
Both players have now won 17 matches in 2018, with Federer now needing to reach the quarter-finals at the upcoming Miami Open if he is to retain his World No.1 ranking.
If he can’t make the last eight at that event, Rafael Nadal will replace him in the coveted spot.