Perhaps it was a long-term mistake for Juan Martin del Potro to have overwhelmed Roger Federer in that astonishing 2009 U.S. Open final. Since then, Federer has become the greatest obstacle in del Potro's path on big occasions. The all-time Grand Slam champ is 12-3 against del Potro in Masters, World Tour Finals, and Grand Slam competition.
The Argentine had to sit out almost the entire year with a severe wrist injury following his mammoth upset of Federer in 2009, but he seems to have fully recovered his game—if not that last, critical iota of confidence.
When del Potro, who’s still just 25, is on top of his game, he looks virtually unbeatable. But even his powerful serve and pile-driver forehand too often desert him at critical moments—as they did at the World Tour Finals last fall, where he fell out in the round-robin stage thanks to an excruciatingly close three-set loss to. . . Federer.
Ad-In: Let’s not beat around the bush; Federer appears to be slowing down and nobody will welcome that news more than del Potro. With the Roger monkey off his back, del Potro might finally see his powerful but oddly prudent game rewarded at the highest level once again. He’s capable of beating anyone because his game is just plain huge.
Ad-Out: If you remember the movie Groundhog Day, I’ve probably said enough. Winning—and losing—are habits, even in the micro-climate at the top of the game. It’s possible that del Potro's numerous failures have been so absorbed in his psyche that he’ll never get over the Grand Slam hump again—even if Federer is no longer his most dangerous opponent.
As we approach the new year, we'll take a closer look at what's in store for the past year's top performers. To read more of our 2014 Season Previews, click here.