Federer’s record against his Argentine opponent was 12-2 before today, with del Potro beating him in the 2009 US Open finals. The match began with del Potro’s characteristic power, and very uncharacteristic unforced errors from Federer who looked to be struggling in the wind. Seizing the opportunity, del Potro sailed through the first set. Through a combination of pounding groundstrokes and brilliant net play, the Argentine broke Federer’s serve and took the set 6-3.
The second set saw both players tighten. Unforced errors produced from both ends provided the two with several break opportunities each. However, somewhere between the breeze and nerves, neither was able to convert on any. After an hour, the scoreline read 6-6 in the second set, leading to a crucial tie break which Federer sealed on his second set point.
In the third set Federer was in trouble on his serve early, spewing errant backhands on several occasions. With del Potro unable to convert on the opportunity, the set stayed on serve with both players cleaning up their play as the games progressed. 8-8 and 0-30 down, del Potro battled Federer at the net, hitting a miraculous backhand volley that ended in what looked to be a painful fall, but the Argentine recovered with an ace and a pair of brilliant forehands to hold. Serving at 9-9, he struck 2 ill-timed double faults and sent a backhand wide to give Federer the 40-30 lead. Benefiting from a shanked forehand by his opponent, the Swiss nudged ahead to 10-9.
Serving for the match and a spot in his first ever Olympic single final, Federer showed his nerves and was broken at love. In trouble at 11-12 and 0-30, the world no. 1 rose to the occasion and served himself out of the deficit. At 17-17, it was del Potro’s turn to sweat as he found himself down 0-40. Following a tense rally, the Swiss got the break to go up 18-17 as del Potro put his shirt over his head in despair.
In his second attempt at serving for the match, Federer hit a rare double fault to go down 15-30. Following a slew of tense rallies and unforced errors, the Swiss reached matched point and converted on his second attempt to take the match 3-6, 7-6, 19-17.
The win has guaranteed that Federer will at least win a silver medal here in London. To win gold, he will have to first make it through Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic.