Federer at ease with title in sight
Roger Federer's experience should win out vs. Juan Martin del Potro in the final
Del Potro is a budding star who moves exceptionally well for a player his size
No. 2 seed Andy Murray was the biggest disappointment on the men's side
SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer S.L. Price, who is covering the U.S. Open in New York, after the men's semifinals Sunday. Top-seeded and five-time defending champion Roger Federer will play sixth-seeded and first-time Grand slam finalist Juan Martin del Potro for the title at 4 p.m. ET Monday.
SI.com: Give us your breakdown of the Federer-del Potro final.
Price: I'm going to call it Federer in four sets. He's not playing the absolute best I've ever seen Federer play. But in the big moments of his semifinal against Novak Djokovic, he came up with every shot he needed. The between-the-legs shot to set up match point is a perfect indication of how relaxed he is, but that can work against you. I was here when Pete Sampras was rolling in 2000 and Marat Safin came absolutely out of nowhere and destroyed him in the final. And then the same thing happened to Sampras again with Lleyton Hewitt the next year. You never say never. And del Potro has that hungry look. He's the young guy who's been making noise all summer. It's not like this is a sudden sort of fluke. He's a player whom everybody knows is the next sort of great possibility in the top five and extremely capable of winning Grand Slams. It might be a tougher match than people expect, but I'm not silly. Federer has too much experience and he's relaxed enough where he'll be able to take the title.
SI.com: What would it mean if Federer won?
Price: It's important, but we're pretty much past all the milestones. He's got the record of 15 major championships. He's got the career Grand Slam. Not that he isn't extremely interested in winning Grand Slam titles, but in terms of emotional victories, I think the next time you see Federer cry -- and I could be wrong, we'll see Monday -- is if and when he's able to beat Rafael Nadal again in a Grand Slam final or deep into a Grand Slam. At this point, it's all whipped cream on the cake for him -- he's just adding on. I think that's one reason why he's able to play so relaxed.
SI.com: What would it mean if del Potro won?
Price: It would be massive. Is he the next great player? Who can say? We all thought that about Safin, who was a handsome, trilingual, hilarious guy, and it never panned out as much as we all expected. Del Potro is incredibly talented and moves incredibly well for a player of his size and gait. I don't want to say the sky's the limit, because I've grown a little bit cautious about anointing anybody until I see it happen for a while.
SI.com: Outside of the two finalists, what will you take away from this men's tournament?
Price: I'm very impressed with Nadal and the way he handled his situation. He was caught between trying to explain himself and wanting to be sporting and he finally admitted Sunday after losing to del Potro that a nagging abdominal injury -- for which he had an MRI -- was hampering him. Clearly he's been battling his body and he's not fully recovered, but he gave it a valiant effort. I love the way he handled the guy who tried to kiss him on the court after his fourth-round victory against Gael Monfils. Like the Australian Open with Federer crying, it was a completely unscripted moment that nothing prepared you for, and it gave us a real window into who Nadal is: He's a sweet guy off the court -- even just a few steps off the court.
Also, you've got to remember Djokovic and Andy Murray: These are the guys who were beating up on Federer in the first half of the year. They have to be disappointed with themselves, as they really had a chance to step up and move in on Federer's territory and they didn't. Murray was the biggest men's disappointment. The way he went away in his fourth-round match against Marin Cilic was really discouraging. I thought he was past that. It's going to be interesting to see how he recovers. A lot of people invested in him psychically. They thought, "Hey, this guy's on the move, he's coming along," and his failure gives those people a lot of pause.
SI.com: What are your thoughts on the state of Nadal's game after watching him throughout this tournament?
Price: We're going to have to wait and see. The encouraging thing is that his knees seem to be OK, and that's really the bigger question for him. The knees are very important to his game for obvious reasons. Same with his core, which is important much more so than for other players. His whole repertoire of shots is based on that strength. So I'm encouraged because I just feel like the knees are a far more fragile construct, and to see them back seemingly pain-free is extremely encouraging for him going forward. I suspect he's going to take time off and let this abdominal issue heal up and come back strong in Australia in the first major of 2010.