The Bare Necessities

Greetings!

Bercy

DelPo lost a surprisingly tight 3 set match to Fed in the Bercy QFs.  Fed has played his way into form these past two weeks — the Maestro notched his 1st win over a top 5 player in over a year (his last top 5 win came over Murray at the WTF last year).  DelPo’s form hadn’t been stellar at Bercy; perhaps fatigue set in, as he’d played 18 matches in the past month.  Nonetheless, DelPo’s QF loss at Bercy gave him a chance to rest a couple of days while it gave Fed a much-needed boost of confidence.

There was an adorkable moment in the match when DelPo hurdled the net (after just failing to reach the ball after Fed did a quick pick-up save) and then gave Fed a bear hug, which even elicited a smile from the mighty Swiss:

Fedpotro Bercy QF 2013

Surely Fed, that’s enough for a karaoke session with DelPo, your only locker-room neighbour? (also, it is becoming obvious that DelPo is all about the “hard sell” when it comes to showing emotional affection).

In other Bercy news, Ferru, after having a somewhat disappointing string of results this past month, found a way to step up his game and make a play for a valiant defense of the Bercy title he’d won in 2012.  Alas, he ended up losing to Djokovic in straight sets, although he had had a chance to serve out the set both times.  Still, Ferru is never someone you can count out when it comes to form and fitness.  He may well be gunning for a repeat win over Nadal in his opening RR against his compatriot, who happens to be the current world no. 1.

The Highway Robbery

After DelPo’s 3-set loss to Fed in the Bercy QFs, he made his way to London, where the World Tour Final will start on Monday.

Unfortunately, DelPo had one of his bags stolen at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris.  A pick-pocketer stole his bag that contained his passport, wallet and his Rosary beads, which had been blessed by Pope Francisco in Rome earlier this year.  Given how much DelPo had looked forward to his meeting with the Pope this May, the loss of his Rosary beads seems especially inauspicious.  Thankfully, due to the ATP’s pull, DelPo was able to complete his trip from Paris to London without his passport.

But the loss of the Rosary beads obviously still lingers on DelPo’s mind.  One of the reasons he played the Rome Masters this year (back when he was in the midst of struggling with a mono-like viral infection that eventually kept him out of Madrid and Roland Garros) was so that he could meet the Pope — if I recall correctly, people in Buenos Aires had pulled strings and put in a great deal of work in order to arrange DelPo’s meeting with the Pope at the Vatican.

In any case, DelPo made peace with what’s happened this past weekend and he expressed his hopes that he might one day meet the Pope again, to get a new set of Rosary beads blessed.  Thankfully, DelPo was spared the loss of his racquet bag, which contains the 2 prized Wilson racquets he is able to play with.

In that sense, he will enter the WTF with just the “Bare Necessities.”  The whole point of that Disney song was to remind everyone that a bear can rest at ease with just the bare necessities of life.  Credit to DelPo, for he seems to have embraced that philosophy.

***

As the London WTFs are set to commence in a few hours, here’s my recap of the past week in DelPo’s world:

London WTF preview:

As if DelPo’s encounter with the pickpocket weren’t bad enough, the London WTF draw ceremony saw him being drawn into the “Group of Death.”  DelPo is in Group B with Djokovic, Federer and Gasquet.

Rafa must be thanking his lucky stars, because the current world no. 1 has a chance to cruise through the RR stage and gun for his first-ever WTF title.  Group A (or “Rafa’s group”): Rafa, Ferrer, Berdych and Wawrinka.

Group B has 3 former/current Slam champions (Djokovic, Del Potro, Federer).  Group A has one (Nadal).

Group B has eight WTF champions (Federer 6x, Djokovic 2x).  Group A has zero.  Group B has 11 finalists at the WTF (Federer 8x , whereas Group A has two.

The draw is tough.  One silver lining is that DelPo’s draw of death includes Gasquet, against whom he is a 5-1 in the H2H (the only loss happened in 2007, before DelPo’s breakout year in 2008).  DelPo will need to defeat Gasquet in straight sets, in order to maximize his chances of reaching the SF — last year, DelPo reached the SF at the WTF on account of having won one more set than Ferrer in his RR group.  Therefore, DelPo will need to start strong and take care of Gasquet efficiently if he wants to back up and improve on his performance last year.

The London WTF Gala

All 8 WTF contenders reached the QF at Bercy, which meant all the Bercy semi-finalists were unable to attend the London WTF Gala — the Saturday Gala took place without Djokovic, Nadal, Ferrer and Federer.  This meant DelPo was the highest-ranked singles qualifier available, which meant he was entitled to the center spot on the stage:

Photo: Simon Owen/Red Photography

Photo: Simon Owen/Red Photography

Still, the remaining 4 singles contenders who showed up — DelPo, Berdych, Wawrinka and Gasquet — managed to work alongside all the top doubles contenders to raise a tidy $660,000 for the Greg Ormond Street Hospital’s Children Charity.  (From 2014 onwards, there will be a week’s gap between Bercy and the WTF, which means both events can one day be treated like the serious events they are).

DelPo attended the Gala on Saturday evening with Juanita Davin as his “date.”  Who is Juanita Davin?  Juanita is the young daughter of DelPo’s coach Franco Davin.  DelPo has a very close-knit team with his coach Franco Davin and trainer Martiniano Orazi, so it’s only natural that he would know Franco’s daughter Juanita.  Juanita is a lucky girl — as a toddler, she was often in the presence of the very delightful Gaston Gaudio, the RG champion who was a previous charge of Franco Davin.

The resulting photos of DelPo and Juanita Davin at the Gala were tremendously adorable.  You have to think she adores the spotlight with her uncle Juan Martin!

jmdp juanita davin wtf 2013

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Photo: Juan Martin del Potro FB

It’s awesome that DelPo was able to conjure up this beautiful moment after the bad day he had on Saturday at the Paris train station.

Here’s the ATP’s recap of the WTF Gala:

 

DelPo will play his first Round-Robin (RR) match against Gasquet on Monday evening.  His opener against Gasquet is for all purposes a must-win match.  In addition, DelPo will need to beat Gasquet in straight sets, as the difference of sets won or lost could prove conclusive to who reaches the SF this year out of Group B.

I will be back with updates on Tuesday, after Monday’s opening rounds have taken place.

DelPo has the evening match against Gasquet on Monday, while Tomas, the only contender this year to not have won a title nor reached a Slam SF, faces off against Stan (who has won a title and reached a Slam SF at the USO).

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I See London. I See France.

It’s only a mere three days before the London WTF starts and all 8 contenders are still in action at the Paris Bercy QFs.  Bercy is turning out to be a fitting lead-up to the season finale in London — Bercy tournament director Guy Forget must be very pleased with the events this week:

london wtf field

  • Wawrinka qualified for the first time at the age of 28, after a breakout season that saw him challenge Djokovic and Murray.  The other Swiss guy is the sole “debutante” this year.  Gasquet, who nabbed the 8th spot, makes his return to the season finale after 2007.  It’s been a solid year for the Frenchman as well, who broke a losing 1-13 losing streak in R4 at Slams, when he reached the SF at the USO this year.
  • Fed qualified for the 12th time in his career.  Although Fed has struggled this year, he is picking up form after a strong performance in the Basel final (where he lost in 3 sets to DelPo).  DelPo and Fed will meet again at the Bercy QF, where it looks like Fed might have the edge.  Hopefully, DelPo will put up a fight and eke out the win, as the big man is still vying for his maiden Masters title.
  • Today’s Bercy QF line-up: Djokvic vs. Wawrinka, Del Potro vs. Federer, Gasquet vs. Nadal and Ferrer vs. Berdych.
  • Midwest Sports,  a major retailer for tennis apparel, has put together a helpful infographic guide for choosing the perfect tennis racquet.  Check it out!
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A Good Turnaround

Hi readers, how have you been?  It’s been a long 2 months, hasn’t it?

Following DelPo’s early R2 loss to Hewitt in a five-setter at the USO, questions lingered over the state of his left wrist, which had bothered him for over a year.

However, he recuperated nicely in the aftermath and has redeemed himself with a strong fall run at the Asian swing and the early part of the European indoor HC swing.  A quick summary of DelPo’s post-USO progress:

  • He climbed 2 places up the ranking and is now the no. 5 player in the world.  It’s been a long 3 years since his wrist surgery, but he’s playing as well as, if not better, than 2009.
  • DelPo joined the “300 club” with his victory over Paul Henri-Mathieu in Basel.  At 25 years of age, he’s notched 300 victories as a pro.
  • Following his straight-set win over Rafa in the Shanghai SF, DelPo qualified for the WTF for the 4th time in his career.
  • In the meantime, DelPo established a borderline inappropriate “Twitter friendship” with Fed:

There are a whole 2 months worth of results to catch up on, so let’s get started:

Tokyo

Photo: EPA/KIYOSHI OTA  Dostawca

Photo: EPA/KIYOSHI OTA
Dostawca

Following his early exit at the USO, DelPo turned 25 y.o.  He celebrated this landmark birthday at home in Argentina, before making his way to Asia to play the Tokyo Open as a WC.  DelPo played the Asian swing of the tour for the first time since 2010.  Given the viral illness (mono-like in nature) which had forced him to skip the Madrid Masters and Roland Garros earlier this year, he needed the rankings points in Asia to confirm his place at the season finale in London.

That extra bit of motivation seems to have done the trick.  While DelPo seemed to be in autopilot mode for most of his Tokyo run, he walked away with the title, his 3rd 500-level of the year, as he defeated Raonic in the final in straight sets.  The Tokyo final was interesting because DelPo seemed to be playing at 70% for most of the match, until he played an astounding return game at 5-all in the 2nd set to break the Raonic serve and finish off the match.

DelPo had also played an exciting match earlier in the SF, against Dolgopolov, where he hit a jaw-dropping FH that sent the commentators into a rightful frenzy.

Shanghai

It was a quick turnaround from Tokyo, as the Shanghai Masters started the following week.  DelPo endured a tough opener against Kohlshcreiber (whose 50 winners and 22 aces sure put DelPo under the test).

The DelPo-Rafa SF was a much-awaited one at Shanghai and it proved to be one of DelPo’s best performances this year.  DelPo pulled off the upset over Rafa in straight sets, 6-2 6-4.  The match itself was a fine display from DelPo, who was arguably playing at a much higher level than his breakout season in 2009.  Not only was the big man firing winners off both wings, but his anticipation and footwork were on in this match.  At one point in the SF, Nadal was seen laughing helplessly at some of the winners DelPo hit.

Here’s one of the many entertaining rallies from the match — DelPo held his nerve in front of the net to go up a break in the 2nd set:

In this sense, DelPo got his revenge for losing the IW final to Rafa earlier this year.  The Shanghai SF raised “What might have been” questions, as DelPo’s BH proved to be a critical factor in keeping up with no. 1 Rafa in the rallies (DelPo had relied heavily on his BH slice at IW, due to this left wrist problems).

By defeating Rafa, DelPo qualified for the London WTF.

After the SF win, DelPo faced recently dethroned Djokovic in the final.  While DelPo had been able to put the pressure on Rafa during the rallies, he had more trouble edging his way into Djokovic’s game.  DelPo lost the first set, 1-6, and he was struggling to hold serve — at one point, he was roaring after merely reaching GP.

However, he stepped up his game in the 2nd set and took advantage of a weak Djokovic serve to get the crucial break and serve out the 2nd set.  The 3rd set reached a TB, after DelPo saved 2 MPs and many BPs along the way.  While Djokovic was winning points more easily off DelPo’s serve in the 3rd set, DelPo also showed his strong clutch gene to stave off a break.  Alas, the TB saw Djokovic gain the edge and win the title.  It was a long, hard-fought and an oft-entertaining affair.  Once again, DelPo came very close to winning his maiden Masters.  Unfortunately, he was unable to take the title in Shanghai, which means he now has a 0-3 record in Masters finals.

(Despite DelPo’s 0-3 record in Masters finals, one encouraging sign is the fact that all 3 finals have gone the full distance — in other words, DelPo’s come very close every time).

Basel

One year ago, DelPo broke a 7-time losing streak to Federer, who at the time was the no. 1 ranked player in the world.

One year later, in 2013, DelPo has defended his Basel title by defeating Fed again in the final (in their first meeting this year):

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DelPo is now a career 5-13 in the H2H against Fed (interestingly, DelPo is now 4-3 over Fed on indoor HCs and 3-1 in finals).

DelPo has endured a rocky 2013 season: He seemed primed to make his move to challenge the top 4 players and take the Masters and Slam titles.  However, a freak viral illness (mono-like in nature) kept DelPo out for two months, forcing him to withdraw from the Madrid Masters and Roland Garros.  He put in a sterling performance at Wimbledon to reach the SF, and then played one of the best Slam matches of the year, in a losing performance against Djokovic.  However, injury and inconsistency kept the big man from making the most of his momentum, as he endured bad losses to Isner (in the Cincy SF) and Hewitt (in R2 at the USO).

Still, DelPo recovered nicely to reach 3 consecutive finals in Tokyo, Shanghai and Basel, walking away with titles in both the 500-level tournaments.  His Shanghai run probably generated the most buzz, as he practically hit Rafa off the court in a straight set win in the SF — DelPo’s win over Rafa marked the 7th occasion in which he’d beaten a no. 1-ranked player.  Although he lost the Shanghai final to Djokovic, the general consensus is that DelPo is coming very close (certainly closer than any of the other outside contenders) to clinching the elusive Masters/Slam titles in 2014.

DelPo’s 3-set win over Fed in the Basel final this year was more close than many expected.  Fed’s body language showed he really wanted to win his hometown tournament and his form was noticeably higher than it had been in previous months.

Fed, who’d broken significant records with his 2012 Wimbledon victory and his  dominant performance in late 2011-2012, has experienced a dip in form this year.  In 2013, Fed is 1-7 against top 10 players.

Given the struggles both players have endured this year, their match-up in the 2013 Basel final was a symbolically significant one.

DelPo’s serve held up well and he stood up to the test of Fed’s defensive abilities to defend the Basel title.  The match itself was close until the very end, but DelPo’s clutch performance in the 1st set TB perhaps tilted the odds in his favor and proved decisive to his title win.

The Swiss crowd in Basel treated runner-up Fed to a heartwarming standing ovation, as they saluted their hometown hero:

At one point, commentators noted that Fed seemed unsure of how to react to the crowd’s lengthy ovation, which at times seemed like a valedictory wave.  The ovation was heartwarming, even as it raised a few uncomfortable questions that loom on the horizon.

The sight of DelPo graciously taking in (and joining in on) the Swiss crowd’s admiration for Fed brought me back to a quote Fed had given earlier this week, after he’d defeated “Baby Fed” Dimitrov in the QF: Sometimes I wish I could be 25 again and have 10 more tennis years ahead of me.” 

DelPo turned 25 this year, so he is precisely at that time Fed pinpoints as the point at which everything is ideal.  I think DelPo realized that as he sat watching the Swiss crowd pour their adoration on the aging but still all-time legend Fed.

***

Summary:

Even as a guarded DelPo fan, who tries to take into account every possible obstacle that could potentially thwart his chances of winning, I have to admit that DelPo’s performance these past months means he is somewhat primed for a great 2014 (provided his health holds up).  He will need to be smart with his scheduling in order to maximize his performances in 2014.  Still, he seems ready to reach for the big prizes that have so far eluded him (by the closest of margins) since 2009.

Many have noted the class with which DelPo handled the local crowd’s efforts to cheer on Fed, even after DelPo had emerged the victor in the Basel final.  It’s only fitting that both Fed and DelPo have been nominated for the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award this year, as they were last year (Fed’s been a decade-long nominee for this award).

***

I’ll be back with a recap of the year after the London WTF! (unless DelPo somehow wins Paris-Bercy, in which case I may be compelled to do a write-up :D)

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US Open: Rain Delay Drama, but DelPo is Through to R2

After a torturous series of rain delays, DelPo defeated Garcia-Lopez, 6-3 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(7).  The total match time was 4 hours and 21 minutes.  The two players shook hands at the net after 9pm in the evening, close to eight hours after they first took to the court.

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Where to start with this match?  Earlier this week, DelPo and Fed ran into each other in the locker room.  The two shared a friendly chat, at which point Fed asked DelPo when he was playing his first match.  DelPo said he was playing Garcia-Lopez, to which Fed smiled and gestured, as if to say “No big deal.”

Fed’s smile and gesture turned out to be a bit of a jinx.  Correction, a major jinx.

The match started out simply enough.  DelPo broke GGL’s serve at love and managed to serve out the first set, 6-3.  GGL’s nervous service game at the start of the match was a critical factor to the outcome of the 1st set.

The 2nd set was more close.  DelPo had numerous BP opportunities but GGL did well to defend and absorb the pace of DelPo’s shots.  The 2nd set TB was a tad disappointing, as DelPo fell behind and allowed GGL to dictate the rallies.  GGL would level the match at a set all, after taking the 2nd set TB 7-6(5).

Despite losing the 2nd set, DelPo was playing very aggressively with his FHs and he even brought out his trademark grunt on the shot (it feels like awhile since we last heard him grunt when he hits his FHs).  For the better part of the match, he was also hitting his BHs cleanly and using it to dictate the points — the rare BHDTL even made an appearance.  DelPo broke to take the early lead at 3*-2 and GGL took an MTO for a left thigh injury.  Then the rain started to fall again, which meant play was suspended right before DelPo had to serve for the 2nd set, 5*-4.  After the delay, DelPo cleanly served out the 3rd set to take a 2 sets to 1 lead.  Despite some cringeworthy errors from DelPo (including a failed overhead smash and a mishit on a FH sitter), he was able to stave off the pressure and hold on the big points.

GGL was visibly limping again and he called for the trainer again.  He wasn’t permitted another MTO for the same injury, so instead he had a lengthy discussion with the trainer.  Despite the injury, GGL was going for his shots.  If anything, the pain in his leg seemed to motivate him to go for his winners.  He was also able to chase down the winners that DelPo was attempting to hit.  GGL’s body language was also noteworthy.  He was openly fistpumping DelPo’s errors and he disputed several calls with the umpire.

DelPo did not convert his 1st BP chance on GGL’s opening game in the 4th set.  He would then hit a DF to concede the early break to GGL.  DelPo seemed frustrated, both by the match and GGL’s frequent calls for the trainer — GGL had also run to his chair to change his racquet when he had BP on DelPo’s serve.  From DelPo’s perspective, GGL was stalling and using gamesmanship to gain an advantage.  Meanwhile, GGL saved another BP to consolidate his lead at 4-1 in the 4th set.

During the changeover, GGL called again for the trainer.  That’s when the bickering started.  DelPo pointed his finger at GGL and asked, “How many times are you going to call for the trainer?”  He complained to chair umpire Ali Nilli, who told him that this would be GGL’s last visit from the trainer.  GGL angrily stood up to defend himself (while his left thigh was being massaged by the trainer).  For a few minutes, GGL and DelPo exchanged words.  DelPo then gave GGL a glare as he walked back to the court.

The tension was high.  Thankfully, DelPo redirected his anger to break back and level the match.  The 4th set TB turned out to be a rollercoaster.  DelPo had two MPs.  GGL hit a shot that was called out, but Hawk-Eye showed it to be just on the line.  They had to replay the point.  Looking back, this moment was funny because DelPo had a bit of towel fuzz on his face.  As he watched the screen, he consciously wiped away the towel fuzz, as he waited for the Hawk-Eye verdict:

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 5.33.08 PM

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 5.33.20 PM

DelPo then hit a long FH (after beautifully setting up the point) and GGL held at 6-6 in the TB.  DelPo would break GGL to finally take the match, 7-6(7).  Here is a clip of MP and DelPo’s very exuberant celebration afterwards:

American James Blake announced his retirement this year.  He played the last match of his career at the USO, which ended in heartbreaking fashion, after he lost a 2 sets lead to Ivo Karlovic.  Fellow players DelPo, Bogomolov and Murray were on hand to greet Blake in the locker room for his last match:

***

Former USO champs Meet in R2:

Up next for DelPo is 2001 USO champ Lleyton Hewitt, who defeated Brian Baker in 4 sets.  This meeting of former USO champs will take place on Arthur Ashe stadium today.

Hewitt is a very tough match-up for DelPo, as he has the defensive capabilities and the patience to challenge the big man.  One encouraging stat is that while DelPo is 2-2 in the H2H against Hewitt, DelPo has also won both of their matches on HCs.  Hopefully, the historical pattern will repeat itself today.

The main issue is whether DelPo can hit his BH at full-strength against Hewitt.  DelPo lost to Hewitt in 3 tight sets at Queens — I remember that Queens match because DelPo would fall behind whenever he became overdependent on his BH slice.  He won that 2nd set at Queens because he finally found the right balance of BHs and slices.

However, DelPo’s left wrist issues seem to be troubling him again.  After his win over GGL, DelPo said he has been having trouble with his left wrist and that this will complicate his match against Hewitt.

***

Press Coverage:

This year, the media have heaped positive attention on DelPo.  This feels well-deserved, after the consistency he showed in 2011 and 2012.  Here are links to the recent pieces about DelPo — both are well worth the time:

***

Off-the-court News:

Aside from the profile pieces, several off-the-court items have been brought up at this year’s USO.  First, ESPN Deportes reports that DelPo is no longer officially signed with Wilson.  Apparently, DelPo gave up a 7-figure contract with Wilson, due to the troubles he has faced in finding a new racquet that he is comfortable playing with.  Currently, DelPo has 4 versions of the old K-factor model, which he has been using for over 4 years.  At some point, he will have to make a decision on which new model to use.

The second major news item concerns DelPo’s agent, Ugo Colombini.  In a press conference with Spanish-speaking journalists, DelPo confirmed that he is no longer working with agent Ugo Colombini.  Colombini will now be working exclusively with Andy Murray.

This raises several questions — is the news about DelPo’s Wilson contract in any way related to the termination of his partnership with Colombini?  What will happen to DelPo’s Nike contract, which will reportedly come to an end in December 2013?  For now, there are no reports on whether DelPo will find a new agent or a sports agency.

For the moment, DelPo is very much a Nike player.  In training, he showed off a t-shirt with the slogan, “Faster and Stronger Than Last Year”:

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US Open: Evil-Eye Draw Analysis

The 2013 US Open draw ceremony took place on Thursday.  DelPo is in Djokovic’s quarter of the draw.  Here is the big man’s probable route at the tournament:

R1 Garcia-Lopez – R2 Hewitt/Baker – R3 Melzer – R4 Haas/Dolgopolov – QF Djokovic – SF Murray/Berdych – F Nadal/Federer

The top half of the draw (Djokovic’s half) is loaded with Djokovic, DelPo, Muzz and Berdych.  The bottom half features Nadal, Federer and Ferrer.  Without exaggeration, DelPo fell into one of the toughest quarters of the draw this year.

DelPo beat Garcia-Lopez in qualifying at 2007 Paris in their only previous meeting.  Assuming he can get past the Spaniard, he faces an incredibly tough match-up in Lleyton Hewitt. Lleyton Hewitt is evil.  He has a sinister habit of referring to DelPo as one of his closest mates on tour, but he always shows up to beat DelPo (as seen at Queens earlier this year).  Hewitt showed his evil-eye at the ATP Heritage Gala for former and current world no. 1 players.  He looks like he would eat your children:

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The man makes Marcelo Rios look like a saint.  Actual saint Guga Kuerten looks baffled as he stands next to the pure evil that is embodied by Hewitt:

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Hewitt lost to Ryan Harrison at Washington this year, but he is always a threat on the big stage.  Aside from the early threat in Lleyton Hewitt, DelPo also faces a tough R4 match-up in Haas.  While DelPo is now career 5-0 over the resurgent German-American player, Haas came close to solving the DelPo riddle at Washington (although he has yet to take a set off DelPo).  Haas now seems more capable of absorbing the pace of DelPo’s shots, which means DelPo will need to stay on his toes if he wants to avoid an early exit.

Now that I’ve properly demonized Hewitt (in an effort to draw up the animus required against DelPo’s potential opponent), I will go back to the tennis.

The ATP hosted a “No. 1 Celebration Event” for past and current world no. 1 players.

Edberg, Borg (Borg was hilariously drunk and slurring his words), McEnroe, Lendl, Connors, Ferrero, Kuerten, Fed, Nadal and Djokovic (and Hewitt) were among the legends present at the event.  Fed tweeted up a storm of photos, including one of himself and Edberg:

There’s also this photo of Fed with Ferrero and Rios.  They look like they’re starring in a cowboy movie:

Each player took the time to speak at the event.  In Hewitt’s comments, he said he would have loved to play John McEnroe and that they would have had a fiery battle (especially with Hawk-Eye).  Hewitt also paid touching tribute to Brad Drewett, the late former head of the ATP.

At the event, the ATP released a short video for “future no. 1 players,” which included DelPo, Muzz, Ferrer and Dimitrov.  That was a nice shout-out for the big man!

***

Good Morning, New York:

As for DelPo, he was in Miami for a few days before he made his way to Flushing Meadows.  In Miami, he showed off a pair of very bright green jeans (while his childhood friend looked like he’d borrowed DelPo’s shirt).  He then enjoyed “nap-time” with Franco or Martiniano’s child, as they fell asleep to Toy Story.

In New York, DelPo has been training on the practice courts.  So far, he’s had practice sessions with Berdych and Berlocq.  DelPo trained with Berdych in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago — I guess their coaches have forged a connection.  Here’s a nifty photo of DelPo trying out his sliced BH against the Berd:

DelPo later practiced with Berlocq, who is a frequent training partner.  Berlocq tweeted that DelPo was hitting the ball very hard in training.  Last year, at the Olympics, Bercloq trained with DelPo in the week leading up to the tournament — he joked that he “gave” DelPo a lesson.  Perhaps Berlocq gave DelPo a similar lesson at Flushing Meadows this year?

Aside from his training, DelPo has also set aside the time to sit with bizarre bedfellows.  First, there’s this photo of DelPo and Muzzface.  Muzz looks like he’s leaning his face into DelPo’s ear, in an attempt to be cuddly.  Back off, Muzz:

Then, Pablo Andujar tweeted an unexpected photo of himself and DelPo in the locker room.  DelPo looks stunned, while Andujar looks thrilled.  Unexpected hilarity ensued:

This is my theory as to why DelPo was hanging out with Pablo Andujar in the locker-room: Andujar is a Lacoste player.  DelPo’s last defeat came at the hands of a Lacoste player, when he lost to Isner in Cincinnati.  Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, DelPo’s R1 opponent at the USO, is also a part-time Lacoste player (more importantly, Garcia-Lopez is Andujar’s frequent doubles partner).  Maybe DelPo needed intel on Garcia-Lopez, which would explain his decision to take selfies with Andujar (aka he traded one photo with Andujar in return for information about Garcia-Lopez’s serves).

In slightly more serious news, here are two good profile pieces about DelPo:

His R1 match against Garcia-Lopez should reveal the state of DelPo’s BH.  That side was struggling in his last few matches at Cincinnati.  DelPo has hinted that he was experimenting with his BH slice in preparation for the USO.  R1 will show whether his body is ready.

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Cincinnati: A Confusing Ending

For the second consecutive year, DelPo’s run at the Cincinnati Masters ended at the SF.  Unlike last year, this year’s Cincy run ended with a baffling loss to a lower-ranked opponent, John Isner.  Isner defeated DelPo in three sets, 6-7(5) 7-6(9) 6-3 to register his first win in five meetings over DelPo.

DelPo served for the match in the 2nd set, only to double-fault on MP.  Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, the signs were there.  Throughout the week, he’d been having trouble serving in the sun and this seemed to weigh inordinately on his mind whenever he had to serve for a set.  Generally, DelPo isn’t that much more or less of a nervy player when serving for sets.  Obviously, he has a certain level of nervousness that pops up when he’s serving for sets, but they haven’t played this great of a role in his previous matches.  However, this time was different.  He visibly tensed up on his serves.  Whereas his previous match with Isner consisted of him dictating the rallies to end points, DelPo resorted to pushing the ball over the net and allowing his opponent to dictate the rallies.  Isner emerged the winner in many of the baseline rallies after the 2nd set.  After only 1 DF in the first set, DelPo served 5 DFs in the 2nd set alone, including that crucial DF when he had MP.

It’s not as if Isner was playing particularly well either.  Although he had the sense to pick up on DelPo’s subpar level, DelPo held the advantage until he unraveled.  The big question is, why did he unravel as quickly as he did?  Why did he hit so many DFs, when he could have played more patiently and managed by rolling in his serves?  Another pressing question: how serious are DelPo’s injuries to his left wrist and back?  He wasn’t hitting his BH with his usual strength in Cincy — he kept hitting loopy, short balls that his opponent would feast on (as Feli did).

To me, it seemed like a combination of mental and/or physical fatigue, impatience, wishful thinking and perhaps a tough of hubris.  DelPo had been much more visibly frustrated than usual this past week in Cincy — he went through an incredibly patchy moment in his QF win over Russian qualifier Tursunov, which led to many instances of him berating himself on court.  In an unusual move for him, he described his 11am start time against Tursunov as “horrible.”  Combine all this with the fact that his left wrist is bothering him again (like it was earlier this year at Indian Wells) and the fact that he was dealing with a lower back problem that showed up after his title win in Washington, and you can perhaps see why the moment amounted to too much.

While I’m uncomfortable with those who intimate that “DelPo reached MP and decided he didn’t want it anymore” or that “He decided he was bored with winning and decided to give it away,” I have to admit that the thought creeped into my mind as I watched the 2nd set TB unfold.  It seemed neither player was able to hold serve and neither player was able to take advantage of the fact that the other was struggling — if there were a way for both players to lose that 2nd set TB, they would have found it.  That’s what makes this match such a confusing one.  Having said that, I still disagree with anyone who tries to use this match as the centerpiece for an argument that DelPo lacks fight or competitive instinct — he has those in spades and he’s done enough in the past that he hardly needs to prove it to anyone.  This match was unusual because he wasn’t putting up as much of a fight this time around.

The pressing question is, what can he do to avoid losses like this in the future?  DelPo’s loss to Isner reminds me of the way he lost to Berdy in the Madrid SF last year.  In both instances, DelPo faced an easier chance of reaching another Masters final (courtesy of early exits from the top seeds), yet he lost both matches, in spite of holding a favorable record against both Isner and Berdy.  If players like Djokovic and Murray are more prone than usual to early exits at Masters, then no. 6-ranked DelPo needs to recognize these vulnerabilities and be prepared to take advantage.  DelPo seems to have run into the same wall that players like Tsonga or Berdych have — he can bring his best against the top players, but he’s not always ready to capitalize on the chances that are created when the top players exit early.

Now that DelPo’s reached the SF at a Slam this year (like Tsonga and Berdyh have), perhaps he can now undertake the next part of the process: that of being consistent enough to be ready to pounce on every available opportunity (a special quality that Ferrer had last year).  DelPo had very real momentum going for him after his SF loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon.  He capitalized on that by winning Washington.  Due to injuries, however (and bad luck, when it came to facing Raonic aka “he of questionable moral standing” at Montreal), he will now arrive at the USO with considerably diminished momentum.  Perhaps, in a twisted way, that actually plays better for DelPo’s chances though?

***

Courtesy of defending champion Fed’s loss to Rafa in the QF, DelPo finally moves up one spot in the ranking to no. 6.  This is the first time since 2009 that he reaches the no. 6 ranking.  The USO draw takes place this Thursday and (assuming no last-minute injuries or withdrawals) DelPo will be seeded 6th at the tournament.

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Cincinnati: Karate Kid

There’s a recent La Nacion interview with DelPo, which @vamosdelpofans kindly translated to English.  DelPo fans will appreciate the personal details.  Some highlights:

  • He stands firm on his decision not to play Davis Cup this year: He says he has received a lot of criticism from Argentiniean fans on social media (Twitter, Facebook) for his decision.  He says it’s fine for them to express their often profanity-laced views, but they should also come to terms with the fact that he is at peace with his decision for this year.  DelPo also says he will be back to play Davis Cup (if Jaite will have him) in the future.
  • The interviewer asks DelPo if he’s ever considered living in Europe or the USA, given the extra travel hours he endures from Argentina.  DelPo says he likes his life in Argentina too much to consider such a move.
  • In Argentina, DelPo lives by himself in Buenos Aires.  Still, he often visits him parent’s home in Tandil, where his childhood room is still set aside for him, complete with a teddy bear he’s had since he was a child.

It’s a nice interview from DelPo, who speaks eloquently in Spanish about his career and his perspective on Davis Cup and his past wrist injury.  He also talks about his favorite animation characters, Disney movies (!) and his love of chocolate and sweets in general.  It’s almost as if his body is simultaneously inhabited by an 80-year old and a 5-year old.

** Cincinnati Action:

Speaking of animation characters and childhood movies, DelPo sported a new look in practice on the Cincinnati courts.  He showed off a collar t-shirt and a headband combo.  He looks very much like the the old movie, Karate Kid:

Nike should consider giving DelPo a collar t-shirt to wear (assuming he re-signs his contract with them at the end of the year).

In fortunate news, it seems his back pain is not bothering him during practice:

And he was generous with hugs as well:

**

DelPo’s first match takes place on Court 3, against Nikolay Davydenko.  DelPo is a straight 3-3 in the H2H against Davydenko.  Their only previous meeting on outdoor HCs was earlier this year at R2 in Indian Wells, where DelPo had his great finalist run.

In other news, Fed his back to using his old 90″ racquet, after experimenting with a new 98″ racquet in Hamburg and Gstaad.  It seems he will go back to testing the new racquet after the US Open is over.  This seems like a smart strategy, given the big HC tournaments coming up.

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Cincinnati: Back in Action

After the farce of a match he lost in R2 to the low-rent sc#mb!!!!g otherwise known as the morally wayward and equivocating disgrace of a figure named Raonic (whose behavior many English-speaking writers seem all too willing to defend, through the use of “heat of the battle” rationale, which is truly a cop-out when you consider the fact that Raonic’s “heat of battle” decisions have yet to propel him beyond R4 at a Slam at 22  y.o., whereas DelPo was a Slam winner before his 21st birthday — so why should DelPo be taking lessons on competitive behavior, or pray tell, net play (cue laughter), from a guy whose sole achievements consist of vulturing weak draws at a now-defunct tournament and the renowned Chennai Open, I don’t know)—

Let me start over again…

After DelPo’s (totally non-controversial) early loss at Montreal, he headed to Cincinnati.

In draw-related news, he’s in the same half of the draw as Djokovic and in Ferru’s quarter.

DelPo’s potential route to the title: R1 BYE – R2 Paire/Davydenko – R3 Nishikori/Chardy – QF Ferrer/Janowicz – SF Djokovic – F Berdy/Muzz/Rafa (if he cares enough to play, given he’s just won Montreal)

All in all, it’s a tough draw.  DelPo’s back problems seemed worrisome in Montreal and it’s been reported that he may have some sort of ligament strain or muscle sprain in the lower back.  So far, there hasn’t been too much news about the specific nature of the injury, so it’ll be touch and go.  At this point, it seems like a one-off for him between a strong run at Cincinnati or the USO — it’s one or the other, but he won’t be having both.  My gut says he may want a protracted rest before the USO.

He was seen training in Cincinnati with Zimonjic (his party-friend at the Washington player’s party) and was reportedly hitting his FHs very hard.  No answers yet on whether his serves are ready-for-competition.

DelPo will practice today at Cincy with Berdy, which should be entertaining.  I’m not sure the two players exactly have matching “auras,” but hey, it’ll probably be something interesting.

More to come as Cincy play gets underway.  The R1 between Janowicz and Blake should be an exciting one.

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Montreal: Foot, Meet Net

Raonic defeated DelPo in straight sets, 7-5 6-4.

The level of play was quite dull, but it ended up turning into one big drama-fest.

First, Raonic took a nearly 12 minute MTO in the 3rd game of the first set, right before DelPo’s serve at 2-1.  It was a bit surprising, as it’s not like Raonic fell during the middle of a point and incurred a sudden injury.  He didn’t seem to be hindered in his movement, prior to the MTO.  Yet he chose to take the MTO right before DelPo’s serve.  And the fact that said MTO ended up lasting nearly 12 minutes?

Raonic received a visit from the doctor and they ended up having a prolonged conversation about how his arm felt numb.  The doctor did some massaging motions as Raonic laid on the ground.

DelPo did not bother hiding his displeasure at the length of the MTO:

If Raonic’s arm problem was a pre-existing injury, why did they need to spend 8 minutes talking about it?  DelPo’s annoyance with the MTO seemed to stem from the fact that chair umpire Mo Lahyani did not communicate with DelPo during the MTO (he did not explain why Raonic needed to take so long).

In any case, neither DelPo nor Raonic were playing well.  DelPo’s back problems meant he was simply rolling in his first and second serves, which gave Raonic (the guy whose return is poor) a chance to actually tee off on DelPo’s serve.  Raonic seemed to gain confidence as DelPo’s errors piled up and he took the first set, 7-5.

In the 2nd set, DelPo broke early and consolidated to take 2-0 lead.  However, Milos would break back to level the set.  DelPo gained BPs to take a 4*-3 lead, when Milos failed to put away a smash.  However, he got broken back straight away.

The drama unfolded when DelPo was serving to stay in the match at 4*-5.  At deuce, Raonic crashed into the net as he hit a point.  The rules say that a player who touches the net before the point is over automatically loses the point.  Raonic knows he touched the net.  I don’t know how Mo Lahyani missed the incident, but Lahyani ruled the point in Raonic’s favor:

On a big point, Lahyani made a huge error.  The replay clearly showed Raonic touching the net and the look on Raonic’s face (and his post-match comments) showed he knew it too.  However, Raonic did nothing to concede the point he’d wrongly been rewarded.

But Raonic had BP and he decided BP was more important to him than basic honor.  He broke DelPo and served out the match to love.  Commentators, including former player Lindsay Davenport, criticized Raonic:

Lindsay Davenport is a multi-Slam champion, former world no. 1 and future Hall of Famer.  She would have made the call against herself.  That shows you can win without abandoning your morals.  She knows how the high the stakes are in a match, so you can’t diminish what she says by saying “easier said than done.”  Also, I can’t imagine great champions of today’s generation acting the same way, especially after such a blatant net touch.  The top 5 have conceded GPs and BPs against each other in important matches.  I think DelPo would also have conceded the point if he’d touched the net and wrongly been given a  point.

Now, many people have voiced their opinions.  Some have actually tried to defend Raonic, claiming that this is the heat of battle and “tennis players are out there to win.”  This somehow implies that being dodgy is okay, as long as you don’t get caught.  I think defending Raonic’s behavior here is taking the “winning at all costs” mentality a step too far.  While the written rules don’t require Raonic to concede the point, it says a lot about his (lack of) sportsmanship that he just stood there and accepted it.  He clearly saw that DelPo was correct in his protests.  DelPo was rightly angry and he argued at length with Lahyani, who admitted “it was my mistake.”

The post-match comments from Raonic made it worse:

First, it’s nowhere near the exact same thing as having no challenges left and getting a bad line call, because a player with no challenges remaining has erred by wasting all his/her challenges earlier on in the match.  DelPo was not at fault here.

Second, Raonic’s somewhat self-pitying line about finding it difficult to accept the call (when he had the power to concede the point) also confounds me.

Then the comedic line of the day:

Raonic’s post-match comments seem a bit spineless and misguided.

DelPo’s comments: “He (Raonic) did not have the correct attitude.  He should admit he made the mistake of touching the net.  The entire stadium saw what happened.  I’m furious at what happened.”

DelPo also expressed displeasure at the long MTO Raonic took at the beginning of the match.  All in all, Lahyani’s very public errors as a chair umpire are piling up and this is a very unfortunate situation.  Given DelPo’s comeback against Dodig in R2 and the more evenly matched nature of the 2nd set of DelPo-Raonic, that point at deuce was definitely a deciding factor in the match.  Cycling has unwritten rules (an honor code) where rivals agree not to attack when an event outside of the rider’s influence (flat tire or a crazy spectator crashing into a rider) takes place — the reasoning behind this code is that the race should not be decided by pure chance or a freak accident.  Any rider who breaks this code faces ostracism.  Tennis has its own honor code, which is why tennis players are quick to concede points they did not deserve.  Raonic went rogue here.  He’s turning 23 this year, so he should know better.

As for DelPo, he says he will get treatment for his back and see if he is fit to play in Cincinnati.  His serves were clearly suffering, so I’m not sure if Cincinnati is a definite at this point.  FueBuena reports that DelPo was considering withdrawing from Montreal, but decided last minute to play against Raonic.  The draw for Cincinnati will be made today, so a decision from DelPo should come soon.

 

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Montreal: DelPo Narrows Out a Win Over Dodig

After winning Washington, DelPo had to do a quick turnaround, as the Rogers Cup in Montreal started this week.  An exhausted Isner, the finalist in Washington (after winning the final, DelPo said Isner was a “favorite” for the USO), lost to Canada’s Pospisil  in R1.

For awhile, it looked like DelPo would be doomed to the same fate as Isner, losing early to a lower-ranked opponent in the opening round at Montreal.  While DelPo had a R1 bye, his R2 match against Croatia’s Ivan Dodig was delayed a good three hours due to rain delay.

DelPo looked a bit out of sorts as he walked out onto Center Court:

Dodig, the no. 35-ranked player, is not an easy out.  Standing at 6 feet tall, he has the defensive scrambling capabilities of a smaller player.  When he gets into a rhythm, he can be tough to hit through.  It was in 2011 Montreal where Dodig pulled off a huge upset, coming from a set behind to defeat Nadal in R2.

Dodig won the coin toss but chose to receive, which put the early pressure on DelPo.  DelPo played a poor service game and was broken.  Dodig played more aggressively during the rallies and he would consolidate to a 2-0 lead in the 1st set.  DelPo seemed a bit slow and he was mistiming his shots — often, he would set up a point beautifully and then wait a split-second too long before hitting what he obviously intended to be a winner.  Instead, many of his FHs would hit the net and he looked quite frustrated with himself.

During a changeover, DelPo called the trainer to receive an anti-inflammatory pill.

After a rough start, DelPo found consistency and broke back.  The 1st set was a closely fought affair, but DelPo secured the important break when he broke Dodig’s serve to take the set, 6-4.  I wonder if Dodig regrets his decision to start the match as the receiver.

The match took a different turn when DelPo was broken again in his opening game of the 2nd set.  He called for the trainer again and it became clear that DelPo was having trouble with his lower back, as he clutched it and grimaced his way through points.  TV cameras showed his lower back was heavily taped.  In Washington, DelPo did seem to clutch his back during his matches against Haas and Isner, which is incidentally the matches where his serves were noticeably weaker.

Given his back issues, DelPo focused more on achieving higher percentages on his first serves (he averaged a respectable 75% for the match).  However, he was literally rolling in his first serves and he didn’t hit his first ace until the 3rd set of the match.  The errors in his game continued.  Although DelPo broke back again to level the 2nd set at 3-3, Dodig would break again after earning 3 BPs on DelPo’s serve.  Dodig took the 2nd set, 6-4.

DelPo took an MTO for his lower back, which was heavily taped:

The 3rd set turned out to be an unbelievably confounding spectacle.  Dodig was confident after winning the 2nd set and he broke DelPo early in the 3rd set, with his persistent play and aggression.  He would then get a double break over DelPo, who seemed to be out of sorts.  DelPo recouped one of the breaks to get on the board in the 3rd set, 1*-3, but Dodig would break DelPo again to take a 4*-1 lead in the 3rd set.  The 3rd set was a veritable dogfight.  DelPo would recover one of the breaks, but Dodig eventually served for the match at 5*-3.  That’s when the previously steely Dodig got extremely nervous.  Dodig hit errors off his BH and went too wide, to get broken.  DelPo went from being 1-4 down in the 3rd set to reaching 5-5.  He held easily and then broke Dodig to love to win the match.  Dodig double-faulted on MP.  

I have no words to describe how DelPo won this match.  It’s a credit to him for staying in it, despite the seemingly insurmountable lead Dodig had in the 3rd set.

DelPo faces Canadian “star” Milos Raonic in R3.  While Raonic has had questionable results lately, he’s played well at his home Masters.  DelPo will have to be much sharper off the ground and he will need to do more with his serves, if he wants to take the initiative during rallies.  I assume he’ll be taking anti-inflammatories for his back again.  It’d be nice if he could achieve a decent result in Montreal without incurring more serious injury before the USO.

We’ll have to see.

Fun fact: If my memory is correct, the last time DelPo came from a double break down to win a match was at the 2009 Miami Masters, when he defeated Rafa in the QF (6-4, 3-6, 7-6 — DelPo was behind 0-3* in the 3rd set, before winning the TB).

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