Roger Federer’s reign as US Open champion is over. The Swiss maestro’s quest to win a sixth straight US Open men’s singles title came to an end Monday as Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro defeated the world No. 1 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the championship match. “Delpo” and David Nalbandian account for “Argentine book-ends” as the two countrymen combined to be the only two players to beat Federer at the US Open since 2003 – Federer winning 40-straight matches between losing to Nalbandian in the round of 16 of the 2003 US Open and losing to del Potro in the 2009 US Open final. Rene Stauffer, in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) discusses Roger’s loss to Nalbandian in 2003, when Roger was first on the verge of becoming the No. 1 player in the world, in this exclusive book excerpt below.
The US Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, presented another opportunity for him to seize the top spot. As the tournament began, Federer seemed in the best position to capture the No. 1 ranking as he was the player with the least amount of points to defend from the previous year among the contenders for the No. 1 ranking. He survived the first three rounds without being seriously challenged, but in the round of 16, once again, his opponent was none other than Nalbandian.
Media and tennis insiders tagged the Argentinean as the arch-nemisis of Federer. The two players played four times as professionals, with Nalbandian winning all four times. Federer, however, rejected the idea that Nalbandian was the player he feared the most.
“That bothers me because I’ve never said that and I don’t see it that way either,” he told reporters almost defiantly in New York. “I’ve never lost to him decisively and I’ve even beaten him in the juniors.”
The second week of the US Open became an ordeal as rain created a scheduling chaos. The round of 16 matches that were scheduled for the second Tuesday of the event did not start until 3 pm on Thursday. After four hours of play and two more interruptions due to rain, Federer had—for the fifth time in five professional matches—succumbed to Nalbandian 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3. The Argentinean was still a mystery to him.
“I find it difficult understanding why I take the lead or fall behind,” Federer said after the loss. “I knew that I had to play aggressively. But I just don’t know how much I should risk when serving against him. He gets to many balls quickly and is great at reading my game. I don’t know what to make of him.” Federer could only watch from a distance as Nalbandian reached the semifinals, where he lost a heart-breaking five-setter to Roddick after leading two-sets-to-love and holding a match point. Roddick went on to win the championship, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero, who assumed the No. 1 ranking by virtue of his runner-up showing. The American wept after his first Grand Slam title just as Federer had two months earlier at Wimbledon. Roddick won the tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati earlier in the summer and moved to No. 2 in the world rankings.