Roger Federer authored yet another epic story of triumph built on perseverance and in equal measure the valiant perspiration of Juan Martin Del Potro, who played his supporting role to Oscar like perfection. The Swiss maestro made a remarkable comeback to assure himself a first career Olympic medal when he prevailed over the Argentine with a marathon 36 76(5) 19-17 effort that captured the timeless spirit of the Olympic Games. While people might argue endlessly about where this match may figure in the pantheon of tennis epics, there is no questioning the undying desire and passion of the ageing champion. It was a 4hr 26min marathon that Federer won with sheer resilience to erase the record for the longest three set match in Olympic history.
Federer will take on British hope Andy Murray in a repeat of their Wimbledon finals in the second week of July. Murray saw off a determined Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-5 to stake his claim for Olympic glory and gain an opportunity to avenge his heart crushing defeat to Federer.
Del Potro made a strong start in his match against Federer, even as the Swiss struggled to find his rhythm under the blustery conditions prevailing at SW19 at the time. Play remained with serve for seven games, before Federer was first to falter. Serving at 3-4, the world No.1 failed to control a backhand volley to offer double break point to the Argentine.
Del Potro sealed the break when Federer found the net with his backhand. A confident hold to love by the Argentine to bag the set suggested that serious problems lay ahead for the reigning Wimbledon champion.
Federer looked to wrest the initiative by pushing Del Potro to the limit in the second game of the next set. But despite four deuces and two break points, the Argentine refused to yield to the severe pressure from the Swiss.
The Swiss flirted with defeat in the fifth game, when he fell behind 0-40. But he relied on his ever dependable service to claw back in a four deuce game of his own to keep the set on serve. Del Potro made a forehand error in the sixth game to offer another break point to Federer, but a service winner down the T allowed the Argentine to battle back and keep it even at 3-3.
In the ninth game, Federer had three game points at 40-0. In an uncharacteristic manner, the world No.1 made four straight forehand errors to allow his opponent a decisive break point. Once again Federer called upon a couple of big serves including an ace to hold to 5-4 and keep his hopes alive.
With neither man able to make the break, the set drifted inevitably into a tie-breaker. Champions always find an extra gear when they need it most. Just when Federer’s Gold medal hopes were in danger of being obliterated, he raised his game to grab the breaker by the scruff of its neck and breathe life into his game.
Federer raced away to a 4-1 lead and even though Del Potro found his way back to even terms, the Swiss had two set points at 6-4. Federer missed the first when he sent a forehand long, but an ace on the next extended the match into the decisive third set.
Del Potro had conceded the momentum to Federer but even so the young Argentine was the first to create an opportunity in the high octane third set. The Argentine sent down a couple of winners off either flank to earn two break points in the second game. Once again, Federer responded with some high quality clutch tennis to deliver winners on both sides to extinguish the threat.
The Argentine found the net at a crucial stage in the seventh game to offer a break point to his opponent. And yet again, it was the serve out-wide that enabled Del Potro to keep the set on serve. Federer was offered a virtual match point in the ninth game when a backhand crosscourt from Del Potro sailed long. But the Argentine snuffed it out with an angled forehand volley winner.
With the enduring experience of having played several timeless sets at Wimbledon, the Swiss was putting immense pressure on the young Argentine, despite having to serve from behind through the decisive third set. The Swiss spurned another golden opportunity in the fifteenth game when he dumped a backhand slice in the net to fall back to deuce on the Argentine’ serve.
As the drama wore on, the intensity of the occasion started to cast a shadow on the wearing frame of the tower of Tindal as they refer to the Argentine. A couple of double faults in the nineteenth game followed by consecutive errors off both sides left Federer serving for the marathon match at 10-9 in the third set.
But in one final twist to the tale, the backhand of the Swiss legend suddenly went AWOL and Del Potro broke straight back at love to even the match at 36, 76, 10-10. Federer’s next opportunity came in the 29th game. The world No.1 cracked a couple of rasping winners on either side to set up three break points. In a sudden burst of energy though, Del Potro won five straight points to stay on serve.
A weary Del Potro offered a window of hope and Federer grabbed it this time with both hands. A winner from Federer was sandwiched between two Del Potro errors to offer the Swiss three break points at 17-17. Roger missed the first opportunity when he found the net with his forehand, but clinched the vital break at the next time of asking.
Federer looked in a spot of bother at 15-30 in the 36th game, but he had the goal in sight and this time he wasn’t to be denied. The loss left Del Potro looking ahead to the bronze medal contest against Djokovic, who lost to Murray in the semi-finals.
The seven time Wimbledon champion will have his hands full on Sunday dealing with the world No.4 Murray who took a confidence boosting straight set victory over Djokovic. The stage is set for a cracking finale, where Murray shall have the opportunity to avenge the heart breaking loss that he suffered earlier in July at Wimbledon.