WASHINGTON — By showing off his impressive reach Sunday, Juan Martin del Potro looked more prepared than he has in years to contend for another Grand Slam title.
After a slow start, Del Potro, 24, sped to the finish line, beating John Isner, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, in 1 hour 29 minutes to claim his third title at the Citi Open, a 500-level tournament near Rock Creek Park.
Del Potro’s win followed his previous titles in Washington in 2008 and 2009. He had not played at the tournament since that second victory, and because of that he holds a 14-match win streak at the event.
In the women’s final, Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia overcame a slow start of her own and beat Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-4, 7-6 (2), after initially trailing, 0-4, in the first set. The women’s final, in two sets, was 26 minutes longer than the men’s final.
The men’s final initially appeared to be following the same script as many other recent Washington finals. Since 2000, 10 of 13 previous champions have had the advantage of playing in the earlier afternoon semifinal. While Isner won his day session semifinal over Dmitry Tursunov on Saturday afternoon, del Potro did not finish his night session semifinal until after midnight, as the match was delayed for several hours during the first set because of rain.
With del Potro showing fatigue, Isner raced out to an early lead, breaking del Potro at love in the fourth game of the match and earning a set point 22 minutes into the match. Isner would not convert that first opportunity, but held on to take the first set, 6-3, in 29 minutes.
But early in the second set, del Potro pounced on a moment of slight trepidation from Isner, reaching high with his right arm and sending back Isner’s overhead smash for a clean forehand winner. Nearly the same sequence played out several games later, this time with Isner needing to jump out of the way of del Potro’s missile, which landed well inside the court and brought much of the crowd to its feet.
After his loss, Isner conceded that those two points had turned the match in his opponent’s favor.
“Not so smart on my part, to go to that wing with that shot, with that overhead,” Isner said. “And I did it again another time, and he cracked one right back at me and I couldn’t do anything about it. I actually wasn’t really surprised, I’ve seen him do that a lot of times. That’s what he does; he’s got a lot of power and a lot of talent on that forehand side.”
From those points on, del Potro ran away with the match, and claimed a three-set victory.
Isner, known for playing five-set marathons and needing tiebreaks to end many of his sets, admitted that the pacing of this match was unusual for him, and credited much of that to the early fatigue of his opponent.
“It was weird,” Isner said of the quick-paced match. “It took on a different course than my previous matches the last two weeks. I think maybe he was feeling a little weak. I mean, I went to bed not even knowing who I was going to play today. So he was at a bit of a disadvantage there, and I think it maybe showed a bit in the first set. He was a little bit slow, and I can speak for that. Bigger guys, it takes us a lot longer to get going, and I think that might have been the case for him.
“But yeah, it was three sets and total time was pretty quick; the scoreline was kind of weird. I haven’t been a part of too many quick three-set matches like that, so it was a little bit different. The match was kind of weird as far that goes.”
Del Potro said the short duration of the match was unsurprising because of Isner’s style of play.
He said it is “tough to play long rallies or long points” with Isner.
After winning in Washington in 2009, del Potro won the United States Open later that summer, his only Grand Slam title.
Asked of del Potro’s chances of repeating a Washington-New York double victory, Isner spoke highly of his odds.
“I would put him, maybe, the smallest hair behind guys like Djokovic and Murray,” Isner said of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. And it would probably just be those two guys, right now. He could very easily right now be the third favorite.”
When told of Isner’s endorsement, del Potro seemed almost embarrassed.
“He said that?” del Potro asked, looking befuddled before receiving a confirming nod from the ATP moderator. “Wow.”
Del Potro then politely repaid Isner’s vote of confidence with one of his own.
“I would say he’s going to be a favorite, too.”