Opa…! Juan Martin Del Potro has a tennis Bar Mitzvah! — The kid from Tandil upends Royer at the US Open

Guillermo Vilas, circa Radness

Guillermo Vilas, circa Radness

Today, my son, you are a man!  If there were any doubters left – and with Royer and Rafa maintaining a virtual monopoly on Grand Slam titles, I’m sure there were plenty – let it be known that Juan Martin Del Potro has arrived.  The kid, who a year ago at only 19 years of age looked like a rising force in the game of tennis, has now at the age of 20 confirmed the suspicions of his greatness and pulled off one of the most stunning tournament victories ever.  Hyperbole?  Think about this amigos, he beat (thrashed) one of the greatest players ever in the semifinals.  You can bitch and whine about how Rafa had a strained ab or a bad knee or a tweaked this or a sprained that… but Rafa is ALWAYS nursing an injury.  He’s built like a cyborg and slides around the court like gumby – a muscle or a tendon is always going to be torn, strained, or freaking out.  Rafa always plays with pain – it’s part of what makes him great – and fact of the matter is, Nadal came into this tourney ranked #2 in the world and was mowing down ranked players without breaking a sweat.  After dispatching Gael Monfils and Fernando Gonzalez en route to the semis, Rafa looked to be in his typical dominant form… and yet Del Potro simply annhilated him.  6-2, 6-2, 6-2.   That compañeros is a tennis version of a back-alley beat down.  Two breaks each set without blinking…  ¡Dios Mio!  Dude made Rafa Nadal look like Gisela Dulko.  (For those of you who don’t follow tennis…that was funny.) 

And after Rafa?  None other than Roger Federer.  With a firm grip on the world #1 ranking and already considered by many to be the greatest player EVER, Royer steamrolled into the finals without showing the slightest chink in his armor.  In the semis, Federer cleanly eliminated the charismatic and talented Serb, Novak Djokovic.  Before yesterday, Djokovic was the only player to break the Royer/Rafa stranglehold on Grand Slam victories and given Royer’s level of play coming into the finals, there was no reason to believe that Royer – undefeated in six matches against Del Potro – wouldn’t continue his legendary dominance en route to an almost unprecedented 6th straight US Open title.  And how does Royer win?  By being the Iceman — a calm, collected, and brilliant tennis maestro.  His game is so perfect and consistent that the moment he gains the advantage on an opponent, it’s over.  His precision is so infallible and his game so resilient that the odds of coming back once you’re down against Royer are slim to none.  That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact — history provides the data.  The dude terminates – especially at Grand Slams…especially in the finals. 

But apparently yesterday no one bothered to tell Juan Martin Del Potro. 

Juan Martin Del Potro...para un futuro mejor!

Juan Martin Del Potro...para un futuro mejor!

The big man (and he is officially now a man) kept working and hustling and booming big serves and bigger forehands, he stayed focused and kept his head straight, and…most shockingly…he rattled the normally stoic Royer Federer.  Taking advantage of the computer replay system, DP challenged a number of close line calls and usually came out on top.  Federer started to get chippy because (a) DP was winning most the challenges and (b) DP was waiting for signals from his coach as to whether he should challenge the call.  Now you have to understand, there is a limit to the amount of time that a player has to decide whether to challenge but it’s not closely monitored.  Until the chair ump says something, you can potentially take all the time you want to think it over.  Tennis also has a written rule that players are not allowed to be coached during the match.  But in a de facto exception to this rule, specifically as it applies to the replay system, players have been regularly looking to their coaches to see if they should challenge a call.  Del Potro was doing both – taking a long pause and looking to his coach before challenging.  Normally Federer doesn’t flinch at this sort of gamesmanship but something about the challenge system has always gotten under his skin (perhaps because he rarely wins his own challenges) and, in sum, Royer got pissed… REAL pissed… and during a side change Royer continued to voice his complaints to the chair umpire.  The chair ump didn’t see as much potential for productive dialogue and motioned with his hand for Royer to let it go.  And that’s when Federer went beyond irked and flat out snapped.  Still in the shadow of Serena’s unfortunate tirade, Royer responded to the chair ump’s “talk to the hand” dismissal by blasting back with a couple “sh*t” and “f*ck” bombs: “Don’t show me your hand, okay.  Don’t tell me to be quiet, okay.  When I want to talk, I talk, alright. I don’t give a sh*t what he says… Don’t f*cking tell me the rules.”  It sounded awesome with the Swiss accent and, oh yeah, did I mention this was a live CBS broadcast…uncensored…no tape delay?  Hole-ee-Crap!  It was like Ron Burgundy saying “Go f*ck yourself San Diego”.  Dude was completely out of character and with that profane little tantrum he started to lose the crowd… because in New York there are only two tennis players who are allowed to throw infantile tantrums and get away with it – one is John McEnroe and the other is Jimmy Connors – and both are retired.  By Johnny Mac standards, Federer’s outburst wasn’t too bad, but in the more genteel  post-Johnny Mac  era it was enough to put the New York crowd – a crowd that favors underdogs to begin with – firmly behind the young Argentine.  And it was here that R-Fed’s normally god-like game started to show clear signs of mortality.  Having lost his cool and lost the crowd, his game continued to tailspin as he ended up hitting a very un-Rogerly 62 unforced errors and 11 double faults.   Of course, there’s only one way to get the best player in the world to snap and that’s by playing wicked hard tennis. 

L'CHAIM!

L'CHAIM!

If we were to run with the Bar Mitzvah metaphor, I’d say Del Potro stepped to the bima and nailed the haftorah.  Being as DP isn’t Jewish, I’ll simply observe that he played a universally manly game — he stayed confident throughout the match and in the late sets he continued to keep the pressure on, hammering that beast of a 100+mph forehand deep into the court.  By beating the #1 and #2 seeds en route to victory, the kid – pardon – el HOMBRE  from Tandil, Argentina, cemented his place in history alongside Djokovic as one of the only people alive able to beat Royer or Rafa for a Grand Slam title during the Federer/Nadal Era…and distinguished himself as the only Argentino since Guillermo Vilas in 1977  to win the US Open.  With Del Potro’s victory, tennis fans will be happy to know that the sport has a bright future for many years to come and Argentine sports fans – chagrined by Maradona’s mismanagement of the Selección – do indeed have something to smile about.  So tonight we will pour a glass of Malbec for Juan Martin…maybe next year he can legally join us in the bar…until then, he can have a sip of Manischewitz…¡Salud!

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~ by El Pollo Rico on September 15, 2009.

2 Responses to “Opa…! Juan Martin Del Potro has a tennis Bar Mitzvah! — The kid from Tandil upends Royer at the US Open”

  1. me gusta la imagen de Nadal como cyborg, me acaba de hacer reír

  2. EPR kinda called it in the 9/10 post: “¡Dios mio! – Juan Martin Del Potro putting the pimphand down at Ashe Stadium”. Paz y amor, – El Pollo Rico

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