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del Potro Rallies To Edge Soderling And Reach Final

London, England

Juan Martin del Potro© Getty ImagesJuan Martin del Potro is through to his fifth tour-level final of the season.

Argentine Juan Martin del Potro fought back from a 2-4 deficit in the third set to edge Robin Soderling 6-7(1), 6-3, 7-6(3) and reach the final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Saturday evening at The O2.

The 21-year-old del Potro, who failed to advance past the round-robin stage on his debut at the season finale in Shanghai last year, is the first Argentine to reach the title match since David Nalbandian lifted the trophy in 2005 – recovering from a two-set deficit to edge Roger Federer.

"It was a very, very tough match," said del Potro. "It was so close. We played unbelievable points.  We served well. The difference was just a couple of points in the tie-break in the third set."

“I think it's pretty obvious losing 7-6 in the third [set] in the semi-finals here, it's pretty disappointing,” said Soderling. “It was a very tough match. Maybe I could have played a little bit better in the important moments and taken advantage of my chances. But overall, not much I could do. I don't think I did anything wrong at the end of the match; he just played a little bit better than me.”

In the final, del Potro will face Russian Nikolay Davydenko, who earlier overturned a 0-12 record against Federer to reach the final for the second year in a row. Davydenko takes a 2-1 career lead into the clash, winning the pair’s most recent encounter in straight sets in the round-robin stage at last year’s season climax.

Looking ahead to the final, del Potro said: "I will want to close a good year. I will play against Nikolay. It will be tough. But if I play like today, maybe I will have chance to win. He's very fast and he plays well on this kind of surface. But if I play good, I think I will have chance to win. He's playing  good tennis. He has confidence to play the final. But I think it will be a good final to watch."

World No. 5 del Potro had advanced through Group A by the finest of margins, following a three-set win over Federer in a repeat of the US Open final, and nearly made the perfect start to his semi-final as he created three break points in the third game. As would be the story of the set, though, Roland Garros finalist Soderling played the big points well and was able to hold on.

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While both players showed off the full range of their breathtaking hitting from the baseline, it was del Potro who was able to make more inroads into Soderling’s service games and was denied on a fourth break point chance by an ace from the Swede in the fifth game. Del Potro had been more solid on serve throughout the set, but it was he who crumbled in the tie-break, committing five unforced errors in succession to trail 0-5. The Tandil native was unable to recover and Soderling earned the one-set lead with an ace – one of 18 he struck in the match.

Unfased, del Potro continued to chip away at Soderling’s serve in the second set and reaped the rewards for his persistence in the eighth game. Despite three aces from the Swede, del Potro carved out a break point chance courtesy of a stinging forehand return and clinched the first service break of the match as Soderling overhit a backhand. He then confidently served out the set to level the match.

Del Potro showed off his full array of talents in the early stages of the third set and wowed the centre-court crowd with a succession of stunning backhand winners to hold serve in the fourth game. A love service game from Soderling stalled the Argentine’s momentum, though, and the Swede capitalised to break serve with a rifling return to lead 4-2. The way Soderling had been serving, it seemed a long way back for US Open champion del Potro, but just as the Swede had done, del Potro raised his level and a huge forehand return brought up a break-back point in the following game, which he converted as Soderling netted a backhand.

"The crowd told me to fight," said del Potro. "The crowd was so exciting, cheering for both players. That helped me to try to fight. Finally I broke his serve at 4-2. I started to play a little better, with more confidence. I think that was the key."

In a fitting way to decide the high-quality encounter, the third set went to a tie-break and this time it was del Potro who drew first blood, rifling a backhand winner at the end of a long rally before going on to open up a 4-0 lead. The right-hander barely faltered as he closed out the victory, finishing with two booming serves after two hours and 11 minutes.

Since defeating 2009 ATP World Tour Champion Federer in an epic US Open final to clinch his first major, del Potro has seen limited court time due to an abdominal injury and it seemed unlikely that the tallest-ever Grand Slam winner, at 6’6’’, would be able to finish the season in such strong form.

On his strongest surface, though, the “Tower of Tandil” has rediscovered the form that took him not only to the US Open title, but also to two ATP World Tour trophies at the Heineken Open (d. Querrey) in Auckland and the Legg Mason Tennis Classic (d. Roddick) in Washington. He was also a runner-up at the Rogers Cup (l. to Murray), an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament in Montreal, and has recorded 41 of his 54 wins this season on hard court.

The No. 9-ranked Soderling, a late replacement for the injured Andy Roddick, made a stellar debut at the year-end championships – recording two straight-sets victories over World No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Novak Djokovic on his way to topping Group B.

“I think I started the tournament really well,” reflected Soderling. “I played two good matches. I kind of played a little bit worse the last two matches. But overall I think it was pretty good. I played against the best, and I won two matches, lost two matches, so it's not too bad.”

The Swede, coached by former World No. 2 Magnus Norman, has enjoyed a career-best season, reaching the quarter-finals or better at 11 tournaments, including reaching his first major final at Roland Garros (l. to Federer) and capturing his fourth ATP World Tour title at the Catella Swedish Open (d. Monaco) in Bastad. He closes the 2009 season with his first Top 10 finish and a 49-21 match record.

 

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