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Roger Federer & Del Potro Set Up Blockbuster Final @ 2018 BNP Paribas Open

Juan Martin Del Potro from Argentina in action against Milos Raonic from Canada in their semi-final match at the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 17 March 2018. EPA-EFE/MIKE NELSON



By Ricky Dimon


With Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray among those on the sidelines and Novak Djokovic a shadow of his former self, the dream final when the 2018 BNP Paribas Open began was Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin Del Potro. Nine days later, that dream is now a realty.


Federer and Del Potro punched their tickets to the title match in much different styles on Saturday, when Roger Federer somehow survived Borna Coric 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 before the Delpo made mincemeat out of Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-3.


Coric turned in a commendable effort but could not quite get across the finish line for what would have been the biggest win of his career. The 21-year-old led by a set, by a break in the second, and by a break in the third–twice–after failing to close out the middle frame of play. Federer stared down a 4-3 deficit in the decider and promptly responded by winning the last 11 points of the match.


“I think (I was) trying to understand Borna’s play, because he absorbs a lot of power very easily,” the 36-year-old said of his struggles. “He’s a great retriever. It became a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. And when you’re thinking you can play offense all the time and then he catches you off guard and you have to go back into defense, I felt like maybe in the beginning it wasn’t happening naturally.”


“It was a great match, definitely,” Coric noted. “I was really surprised how well I played, how much pressure I was putting on him, and I was also enjoying it. I think I was pushing him to the limits. He pushed me to the limits, for sure.


“It was very enjoyable, but at the same time it was tough. It doesn’t feel great to lose this match, but I know that’s tennis. I need to look at it from the positive side–just the whole tournament, and this match as well.”


Del Potro’s fortnight is still alive and well, and it has arguably been more impressive than everyone else’s. It continued in scintillating fashion in the second semifinal, as the Argentine erased Raonic in a lightning-quick one hour and five minutes. Del Potro surrendered only eight points in eight service games and converted a four of five break chances.


“I broke his serve very quick in both sets,” Del Potro reflected. “That give me the control of the match. I played a smart match, because the conditions were tough to play in. I served well. I took all my chances. It was an easier match than what I expected.”


The 2009 U.S. Open champion’s reward is a 25th career contest against Federer, who leads the head-to-head series 18-6. It is really much more competitive than that 18-6 mark suggests, as these two champions have waged tons of memorable battles against each other over the years. In fact, without a myriad of wrist problems endured by Del Potro this would undoubtedly be one of the best rivalries in recent tennis history.


Federer and Del Potro did not square off once in 2014, 2015, or 2016, but that all changed thanks to the Argentine’s resurgence in 2017. They clashed on four occasions, with Federer getting the job done in Miami, Shanghai, and Basel in addition to Del Potro’s 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 upset in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.


Surprisingly, a Del Potro win would give him his first-ever Masters 1000 title. Federer, on the other hand, is seeking his 27th career Masters 1000 triumph.


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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