Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro squared off this afternoon in the Indian Wells final. Federer was aiming to continue his dream start to the season, while del Potro was in search of his first career Masters 1000 title. It would be del Potro who prevailed, edging the Swiss 6-4 6-7(8) 7-6(2) in what has to be the match of the year.

The match got off to a high quality start as both men traded strong serving until 2-2. Then, a series of Federer errors and a sparkling del Potro volley got the big Argentine the break through.

Federer provided some resistance as del Potro tried to consolidate, but some strong serving got del Potro the hold for 4-2. del Potro returned the favor in the next game, pushing Federer to deuce, but the world #1 held strong for 4-3. The two men then traded holds, and del Potro would serve for the first set, which he did without much drama, holding to love to seal the first set 6-4.

del Potro would not let up at the start of the first set, dictating play with his forehand to generate two break points. Federer, however, quickly flipped a switch and came up with a series of clutch plays to win four straight points and go ahead 1-0 in the second. The high quality of play continued with points like these:

Federer still couldn’t find any kind of range on his forehand, the wing that had reapetdly failed him today, missing several shocking mid court balls. However, the Swiss relied on his serve and variety, much as he did in his semifinal against Borna Coric, to keep holding. del Potro was rock solid as well, with thunderous serving, and the end result was that the two men traded holds to 5-4, as Federer slowly began to find his fabled forehand. It would then be Federer’s turn to make his move, as he drew del Potro to net and passed him, and then connected on a deft backhand volley to go up 15-30 on del Potro’s serve. Another short return drew the error and set up set points, Federer’s first look all day at the del Potro serve. del Potro would demolish a forehand off a big Federer return and the Swiss could only watch it go by. Federer’s forehand failed him once more, as he narrowly missed a forehand cross court on the second set point. del Potro would escape the game to level the set at 5. The next game was absolute eye candy with a stunning Federer pass right off the bounce, a rocket of a forehand winner by del Potro, and then finally a Federer backhand volley and a big serve to hold for 6-5.

del Potro would quickly hold to love to send the second set to its only fitting conclusion: a tiebreak. Neither man was giving an inch, as they traded points on serve to 3-3. However, Federer would then draw first blood, pouncing on a short del Potro slice and ripping an inside out winner to secure the mini-break. Another inside out forehand winner flew off Federer’s racket, this time a passing shot after a marvelous defensive slice. Federer then connected on a strong first serve, and the second set was firmly on his racket. Some strong del Potro serving saved the first two set points, but then a Federer first serve was challenged, and called out by hawkeye despite appearing to touch the line on replay! A visibly frustrated Federer then sent a second serve 5 feet long, but he regained his bearings with an ace to set up his fourth set point. del Potro responded with a big serve and a strong second serve to give himself a match point. However, del Potro netted a forehand and then missed another one to give Federer his fifth set point. Federer would finally make good on his numerous chances as some fabulous defense drew a volley error from his opponent. Federer had won a truly marvelous and rousing set of tennis 10-8 in the tiebreak, and this match was headed for a final set showdown.

Federer continued his spectacular defensive play to open the third, getting to deuce on the del Potro serve, but some sloppy play would give del Potro the crucial hold. The next game began with some jaw dropping ball striking, as Federer ripped a forehand winner and del Potro responded with a laser beam of a backhand down the line. del Potro would level the game at 30 with some strong forecourt play, but a ridiculous drop shot and then some strong net play on Federer’s end wrapped up probably the best shotmaking display of the match to even the third at 1.

del Potro continued to smack forehands and serves all over the court to hold for 2-1. Federer replied with an easy hold, and then opened the next game by clocking a forehand winner and then another one off a strong return to get to 0-30. del Potro would reply in turn, clocking a couple massive forehands of his own to even the game. A missed Federer forehand and another booming del Potro forehand gave him the hold for 3-2. Federer slammed down a couple aces and del Potro replied with an easy hold of his own and the third set was moving along at 4-3. Federer’s backhand down the line began to click, as he held for 4-4 and then got to 15-30 on the del Potro serve.

A masterful play capped off by a backhand volley got Federer to break point, but del Potro saved it with a big serve and a forehand. However, Federer went back to the short slice to force a del Potro error, and finally broke through with a sharply angled backhand return. Federer walked to his chair up 5-4, one hold of serve away from his sixth title in Indian Wells. Federer would hold true, although it would not be easy as del Potro would save two match points and generate a break point. Federer saved it with some tremendous defense before taking a passing shot right into del Potro’s body. A wild del Potro forehand gave Federer his third match point, but this too was thwarted as del Potro ran up to a Federer dropped and passed him. Federer then sent a forehand into orbit to give del Potro his second look to break back. del Potro would make good on it, crunching a cross court forehand to break back and extend this thriller.

The first serve that had saved Federer for much of the match had failed him in that game. del Potro had new life, and he quickly held to force Federer to serve to stay in the match. Federer responded to the challenge, holding easily to send this match into really its only appropriate finish: a third set tiebreak.

The tiebreak would not quite live up to the billing, as del Potro quickly surged ahead to a 5-0 lead. Federer would get on the board, however a double fault gave del Potro an insurmountable 6-1 lead. Federer’s first serve had completely abandoned him in the most crucial stage of the match. del Potro would make good on his third match point when Federer sent a forehand long. del Potro raised his arms in triumph, he had overcome Federer in an absolute classic to capture his long overdue first Masters 1000 title. These two men, two of the most beloved figures on tour, and waged war for nearly three hours and given us a match to remember.