NEW YORK – Some champions emerge in front of our eyes when we least expect it. Such was the case Monday with Juan Martin del Potro, who looked deep within himself at the moment of reckoning and found reserves of conviction many doubted he possessed.
That the Argentinean won the U.S. Open on Monday was less surprising than the manner in which it came about.
For while the No. 6 seed had shown glimpses of brilliance and undoubted potential over the past year, few perceived him as being ready to step into Roger Federer's fiefdom and prosper.
Del Potro succeeded in cutting off Federer's seemingly inexorable march to six straight U.S. Open crowns, taming the King of Flushing Meadows in a way five men in five finals could not.
Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had all stacked themselves up against Federer on this court with the championship on the line and all had fallen by the wayside.
No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro from Argentina upset Roger Federer to win the U.S. Open.
Defeat came so perilously close for del Potro in the fourth set, when the defending champion came within two points of the match and seemed in full control.
But del Potro struck out for the lines with the fearlessness of youth, crushing the ball and Federer's will with his monstrous ground strokes. He even found time for fun and frivolity on the biggest day of his life, high-fiving kids in the crowd after winning one extraordinary rally.
In the end, the 20-year-old was dominating and took the final steps toward the trophy without a stutter.
"I don't know what to say about this," del Potro said. "It is the most amazing thing, it is the most crazy feeling to have.
"Of course when I came closer to winning the match I knew my dream was coming nearer and I was nervous. But I believed I could do it because I have played very good tennis at this tournament and I just focused on continuing like that.
"I believed in myself but now I can't believe this has happened to me. I wanted this tournament so bad, for so many years."
Del Potro and the U.S. Open are a perfect match. His height and crunching flat ground strokes allow him to control the action on this surface better than any other.
Roger Federer disputes a call to chair judge Jake Garner.
Yet once the 6-foot-6 del Potro surrendered the opening set 6-3 it looked ominous for him. Federer is the ultimate front-runner and Slam final rookies rarely do their best work from behind.
But he held firm, prevailing in a second set tiebreak as Federer's composure slipped with an altercation with the umpire over a challenge.
Even though Federer regained his cool in the third, del Potro was growing in confidence all the time, learning to love the enormity of the arena and the occasion.
A tumultuous fourth set was his thanks to another tiebreak and the dismantling of the Federer serve, as double faults and unforced errors crept in for the Swiss master at just the wrong moment.
By comparison with what had come before it, the fifth set was a procession, with del Potro bursting into an early 3-0 lead, before breaking Federer again to seal the championship.
And thus we have a shakeup in men's tennis. Big Four – forget about it. Del Potro now belongs deservedly among the elite of the game and having witnessed bursts of excellence such as those he conjured over the past fortnight, it is easy to see more Slams in his future.
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have shown the ability to live with Federer and Rafael Nadal on tour, but rarely in the Slams, over five exacting sets.
In the span of two days del Potro took care of Nadal and Federer, downing two modern-day legends back-to-back.
So what of Federer? Such was the exuberance and swagger the world No. 1 held going into the final, it was impossible to envisage an outcome such as this.
Does it mean the end of an era? Not so fast. The end of a remarkable run it is, more than 2,000 days since David Nalbandian beat him in the fourth round of the 2003 U.S. Open.
No, on this day the king simply found a contender ready to take the biggest sporting step of all, to wrest the crown that had been welded to his head for so long.