Playing against the same R1 opponent as last year, DelPo defeated Mannarino in straight sets, 6-1 6-2 6-2 (official match time: 1h 17 minutes). Admittedly, the tricky Frenchman was not at his lefty-forehand firing and crafty volley-making best. However, to downplay DelPo’s thorough dismantling of Mannarino would also be a discredit to DelPo.
Unlike last year in Melbourne, DelPo played much more aggressively against Mannarino. His first serves were firing (76%) and his FH was at its fire-cracking best from very early on in the match. The AO match stats show that DelPo’s average first serve speed was 193 km/hr (119.9 mph), which is an encouraging stat.
For a player with his offensive capabilities, DelPo plays a more high-percentage game (compared to the likes of Berdy or Tsonga). Sometimes, this means DelPo will retreat to passive defense, which can be frustrating to watch at times.
In an encouraging sign, DelPo started attacking very early on in the match. The praise for DelPo’s FH over the years could fill an encyclopedia and the FHs DelPo hit to hold for 1-all in the 3rd set should merit a paragraph or two. Mannarino had held his opening service game in the 3rd set, unlike the previous two sets. This may have sparked a renewed commitment from DelPo to attack and finish off his opponent. The open-stance FH that DelPo hit on GP at 1-all in the 3rd was predatory power at its best.
DelPo’s R2 opponent will be Benjamin Becker. Currently ranked no. 66 (career-high ranking of no. 38), Becker’s claim to fame is sending Agassi into retirement at the 2006 USO. The DelPo vs. Becker match should thus be named the “Battle of the Widowmakers,” as DelPo is gaining a reputation for sending two of the New Balls Please generation into retirement himself (Safin at 2009 Paris, Roddick at the 2012 USO).
Becker has reached R2 at the AO the past two years. Becker lost to Monfils in Auckland this year — however, he did push Monfils to three sets, which means he is by no means a walkover opponent (Monfils, for his part, played quite the thrilling match in his win over Dolgopolov today).
In his post-match interview on Hisense Arena, DelPo made an interesting comment about his age. He said, “I’m getting older, I’m 24 this year.” While DelPo is the youngest player in the top 10 (the average age of the top 10 seeds at this year’s AO is 27 years, 5 months), it’s scary to think that seemingly perennial top 10 players like Ferru, Berdy and Tsonga are already on their way to veteran status (at 30 yrs and 27 yrs of age, respectively). In that sense, DelPo seems aware that the time to capitalize on his potential is this year and the next few years ahead. Time stops for no one!
DelPo also assured the interviewer that he was at 100%. When asked about his London Olympics experience, DelPo said his loss to Fed at the Olympics was “the worst day of my life.” His quick turnaround to beat Novak for bronze was then the “best day ever.” Given how DelPo cried until 3AM after losing to Fed, I guess that shows how much he invests in his own performance. In fairness to DelPo, if I had to speak in Spanish, I would say everything was “muy bueno” or “muy malo.” Nuance is not easy to capture when speaking in a second language!
DelPo spoke about his 2013 season goals, in which he acknowledged his goal was to win a Slam, although the road would be very tough.
“I’m here trying to do that, but it’s not easy,” he said. “I know how tough it is to win a Grand Slam. But I also know the way to win a Grand Slam.
While this may not exactly sound like fighting words, it is also a marked shift forward from the comments he gave in 2012. After defeating Mannarino in 2012, DelPo had said the following to Argentinean media:
My head is much more calm now … [In 2011], I came to the AO ranked near no. 500 and I was asking, “Please, don’t make me play Federer or Nadal in the first round.”
In the same interview from 2012, DelPo also said
…Thank God my thoughts are much calmer now.
While looking too far ahead is pointless, let’s hope the slow buildup of DelPo’s confidence pushes him to a great performance in Melbourne this year. While his match against Mannarino may not have been competitive, the impressive form he showed bodes well for him. Given DelPo’s consistency in 2012, he’s definitely earned his right to assume a more competitive mindset this year.