LONDON — Juan Martin del Potro squeaked into the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals by beating Roger Federer 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3 Thursday — the slimmest possible margin to advance and knock Andy Murray out of the tournament.
The result means Del Potro and Federer both advance after a three-way tie in Group A, with Murray’s elimination literally coming down to the last game after three rounds of group matches.
All three players finished the round-robin stage with two wins and identical 5-4 set records, but Murray had the lowest percentage of games won. Had Del Potro lost just one more game against Federer, Murray would have advanced at the Argentine’s expense.
Murray beat Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) earlier Thursday.
The complicated tiebreaker system left even the players uncertain about who had advanced when the last match was over.
“I asked Juan Martin myself at the net, ‘Did you make it or not?”’ Federer said.
“He said, ‘I don’t think so.’ … Of course, you got to feel sorry for the guy who didn’t make it. At the same time, Del Potro beat the No. 1 player in the world in the group, and I guess also deserves to go through. There’s only two places, and that’s the way it is.”
Del Potro said he had to wait 25 minutes before getting confirmation that he advanced.
Federer would have been eliminated with a straight-set loss and looked in serious trouble against the U.S. Open champion.
He trailed 5-4 in the second-set tiebreaker with Del Potro on serve, but the Argentine netted a simple forehand that would have set up two match points.
Federer then converted his set point with a forehand volley, and celebrated by jumping into the air with both fists clenched.
“I knew I couldn’t lose in two sets because I knew that was going to knock me out,” Federer said. “That’s why I was very excited.”
The deciding set then went with serve until 4-3, with Del Potro needing to break to keep alive his chances of advancing.
He did just that, going up 0-40 before converting his second break point when Federer put a forehand wide. He then closed out the match with a second-serve ace, to repeat his victory over Federer in the U.S. Open final.
“I played good tennis today, similar to New York, a little better in some moments of the match,” Del Potro said.
“I served good in important moments. I take my opportunities. That’s what I have to do against the best player of the world – take the opportunities and try to play the best tennis.”