Just over a month ago, Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro had never won an ATP event. Though just 19 years old, he has now won three.
Neither Del Potro nor Andy Roddick, his opponent in Sunday's final of the Countrywide Classic at UCLA, had dropped a set in the tournament, but Del Potro broke Roddick three times in the first set to win the final, 6-1, 7-6 (2).
"The first plan was to try to return his serve," Del Potro said. "He started to serve I think very slowly, and I did very good returns. I broke very early in the first set and after that I start to play my game. I don't give him any chance to break my serve. I play unbelievable."
Del Potro won two clay tournaments in July, at Kitzbuhel, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, to bring his ATP ranking to 24, but he had never made the finals of a hard-court ATP event. In winning Sunday, he pushed his tour-long winning streak to 14 matches.
"He's playing confident tennis, and it seems like he's playing without a care in the world right now and you see that happen," Roddick said.
Roddick, who had not advanced to a final since winning at Dubai in March, said he played his first good tennis in four months Friday. And although he did not play to the level he wanted Sunday, he was pleased to even be in a final.
"I didn't know if I was going to play much less make a final," Roddick said. "I probably would've taken that at the beginning of the week."
Roddick began the match by winning just four points in the first four games. Del Potro won 90% of the points on his first serve and had to play just 15 service points in the first set.
"The first set he played lights out," Roddick said. "I could've played really well and I'm not sure it would have mattered."
In the second set, neither player faced a break point leading into the tiebreaker. After holding to 3-2 in the tiebreaker, Del Potro then took the next four points to win the match.
"In the tiebreak, I did unbelievable shots, unbelievable points and that was the difference," Del Potro said.
Roddick, known for having a strong forehand himself, was quick to point out the Del Potro's forehand as his biggest weapon.
"Everybody is going to talk about how big it is, but he can hit it both ways," Roddick said. "He hits this way and this way kind of equally and he can hit it from inside out and running to it, which is a good thing for him, bad for the rest of us."
Del Potro is one of many younger players that have begun to string wins together of late. Ernests Gulbis advanced to the quarterfinals of Cincinnati and the French Open, while Marin Cilic made the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, where he beat Roddick. Gulbis and Cilic are also 19. Roddick said it wasn't Del Potro's and Cilic's talent at their age that surprised him, but more their size. Each is 6 feet 6 tall.
"I always get a kick out of when everybody acts shocked when young players start winning matches, like it hasn't been happening for the last 100 years," Roddick said. "I think the biggest thing is these guys are huge. I remember I was kind of big once upon a time as far as tennis standards."
For Roddick and Del Potro, attention now turns to the Legg Mason Classic in Washington this week, but the real focus is on the U.S. Open.
Del Potro, whose rank will rise to 17th in the world with this win, hopes to make his first big splash in a Grand Slam tournament. Roddick says that of the three 19-year-olds, Del Potro is the most ready to do so.
"To play well over a span of five or six weeks is what you really look for," Roddick said. "A lot of people can get hot for a match or two or even for a week, and the fact that he's put it together, it's impressive."
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This year's longest ATP match-winning streaks:
*--* 1. Rafael Nadal 32 May 12-July 18 2. Juan Martin del Potro 14 July 7-present T3. Nikolay Davydenko 11 March 24-April 14 T3. Roger Federer 11 June 9-23 T3. Fernando Gonzalez 11 April 28-May 26 6. Rafael Nadal 10 April 21-28 *--*