NEW YORK – Juan Martin del Potro's surge into the men's final of the U.S. Open has created one of those sporting anomalies where statistics and reality make uneasy companions.
The Argentinean, ranked sixth in the world and in this tournament, is not supposed to beat Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows on Monday. Why not? Try Federer's 15 Grand Slam titles and the fact that del Potro has lost all of his six encounters with the Swiss superstar.
However, del Potro's spectacular demolition of Rafael Nadal in Sunday's first semifinal dictates that he must be a contender, such was the force of strokeplay and level of assurance the 20-year-old displayed.
Whether or not his breakthrough Slam comes in Queens this week, there is little doubt that he has arrived as a threat to break the monopoly of tennis' Big Four – Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
A title for del Potro would come as a nasty shock to some. Murray felt that he would be the next new Slam winner before another disappointing exit here with a loss to Marin Cilic, who was in turn swatted aside by del Potro.
Djokovic, who lost Sunday's second semifinal to Federer, would have expected to have added a Slam in New York by now, with this being his favorite surface, yet has to make do with just the 2008 Australian Open crown.
Beating Federer in a final is a stern proposition for the man from Tandil, Argentina, whose 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Nadal was the performance of the tournament so far.
"Today I just played unbelievable and that was the key," he said. "I have the game to win. It could be difficult for me because I have never played in a Slam final but I believe in my game."
Hard courts are like home for del Potro, who maximizes the consistency of bounce and lets rip with huge cuts from both wings.
Nadal had no answer. The Spaniard's high-kicking topspins caused no problem for the 6-foot-6 del Potro.
Then there was del Potro's serves, booming and varied, which allowed him to hold 12 straight times.
Nadal battled, but had no answer. So dominant when matched up against most styles, he was destroyed here like never before.
Nadal was restricted by an abdominal pull but no one should be fooled into thinking that was the cause of this result, not even close.
"He played much better than me and that is the reason he beat me," Nadal said. "He played with a lot of confidence and today he was playing much better than me."
Del Potro seems to be the real deal. He hasn't mastered grass and fell to Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon, but he is a real contender on any other surface.
John McEnroe and other legends have said they expect great things from del Potro, and it appears the best is yet to come.
Monday could be the latest giant step for the giant man with the blistering groundstrokes.
"The U.S. Open has always been my dream," del Potro said. "I saw it on television when I was a kid and knew I had to play here. To play here in a final will be a special time, whatever happens.
"But of course more special if I win."
- del Potro