After nearly a month away from the clay court, DelPo returned to play his R2 opener against Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov yesterday. He looked much thinner than before (as he’d lost quite a bit of weight due to the virus):
Still, he made quick work of the Russian qualifier and defeated him, 6-3 6-2 in an hour and 11 minutes.
Against a first-time opponent, DelPo was able to shake off the rust and win the match in straight sets. However, he had some issues with landing his first serves and was caught off-balance by Kuznetsov’s returns. That, in addition, to DelPo’s dodgy footwork, made it difficult for him to play his attacking game with his heavy-hitting shots. In quite a few instances, he was left “stuck in the mud” when Kuznetsov found the angles on the open court. Perhaps the fact that Kuznetsov had won 3 matches in qualifying gave him the early edge.
Kuznetsov plays an attractive game and his DTL shots, along with his feel from the baseline, often caught DelPo off-guard. In the first few games, it seemed like Kuznetsov could gain momentum and run away with the match. He was reaching BP on DelPo’s serve, while defending his own serve very well.
Thankfully, DelPo raised his level in time. He’s been working to improve his serves on clay and the serve was a key part of why he was able to change the dynamics of the match. He also found confidence on his FHs, while he flattened out his BHs. He broke Kuznetsov at 30 with an impressive CC FH to go up 3*-1 in the 1st set. While Kuznetsov battled on impressively, DelPo was able to maintain his command and he served out the first set to love, 6-3.
As the crowd at Pietrangeli petered out of the stadium to watch Federer’s impressive blow-out over Starace on Court Centrale, DelPo took full command of the match in the 2nd set. He persisted in attempting to hit dropshots, a tactic that eventually bore fruit when he broke Kuznetov to go up a break 2*-1 in the 2nd set.
It’s a full credit to Rome that Pietrangeli still remained at 80% capacity at the end of the DelPo-Kuznetsov match. This is a welcome contrast from the empty stands that characterized much of Madrid’s early round matches.
DelPo played much better in the 2nd set and he played a particularly impressive point where he lunged from side to side to eventually hit a passing shot winner in the 2nd set. His movement was far better than it was at Monte Carlo and his win over Kuznetsov in Rome was similarly far higher in quality than his R2 win over Dolgopolov at Monte Carlo.
Whether DelPo can channel his best tennis and uphold this form against R3 opponent Benoit Paire is a different question, as the no. 36-ranked Frenchman can be a tricky customer.
In other news, Murray faced back problems and he unexpectedly retired from his R2 match against Granollers, after climbing back from a double-break disadvantage and winning the 2nd set TB. DelPo is in Muzz’s quarter — Muzz’s quarter is now devoid of both Muzz and Almagro, who had looked to be a potential R3 contender to DelPo. DelPo’s route to the SF is now Paire –> Chardy/Granollers.
This serves as further proof of my theory that any draw that has DelPo, Muzz and Chardy in the same quarter of the draw is bound to face heavy volatility. This was the case at the AO this year, when Chardy beat DelPo in R3. Fast forward to Rome, where Muzz loses to Granollers in R2.
If DelPo beats Paire and Chardy (who beat Nishikori in R2) beats Granollers, we could be on course for a rematch in the QF. On the other hand, DelPo has lost to both Chardy and Granollers in recent years (lost to Chardy in R3 at ’13 AO and lost to Granollers in the SF at ’11 Valencia).
In any case, DelPo’s first career match-up against Paire is the first priority here.
In Other News:
- Federer recently had a haircut in Rome, that left him bereft of his glossy chestnut curls. This is the first bad haircut that Fed (the generator of numerous #hairporn hashtags on Twitter) has had in four years. Fans bemoaned the loss of Fed’s curls. Eventually, an enterprising fan made a comparison between DelPo’s bad haircut right before Monte Carlo and Fed’s bad haircut in Rome. See for yourself!
(@DelpoFriendClub) May 14, 2013
My theory is that DelPo and Fed decided they should take an early haircut, in order to let their locks grow out in time for a glorious showing at Roland Garros.
- Surprise Madrid finalist (and Portugal Open winner) Stanislas Wawrinka gutted his way to a R1 victory over Carlos Berlocq. However, Stan appeared to be suffering all throughout the match, as he required numerous trainer visits to massage his thigh. Although he won his R1 match, he withdrew from Rome and gave his R2 opponent, Dolgopolov, a walkover to R3.
- Andy Murray was in the same quarter of the draw as DelPo. Muzz faced Granollers in R2 — he lost the 1st set and was down a double break in the 2nd set. However, Muzz recovered those breaks to eventually win the 2nd set TB. Then, Muzz retired from the match, citing a back injury. Now, it appears the back injury may be serious. In his post-match presser, Muzz said his participation at Roland Garros is “unlikely.”
- DelPo finally had his long-awaited meeting with the new Pope! He shared his thoughts via Twitter about meeting the newly elected Argentinean Pope [“Today, I had the chance to meet and talk to Pope Francis at the Vatican. It was a greatly special moment for me, I will never forget it.”] Here is a photo of DelPo attending the weekly general audience at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome:
Finally, here is a photo of DelPo meeting with Pope Francis at the weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican!
This is a lovely moment for DelPo, who will surely cherish his chance at having met the Argentinean Pope. DelPo had spoken earlier at Indian Wells about the pride he felt that an Argentinean had been elected as the new Pope.
DelPo had the chance to gift the newly elected Pope a new Wilson racquet as well!
The Slice (@TheSliceTweets) May 15, 2013
Personally, I love that DelPo has inadvertently created one of the best ads for Wilson racquets…
#poweredbythePope It’s notable that the racquet DelPo gave to the Pope looks noticeably worn. DelPo has famously stuck to the now-obsolete model of Wilson racquets that he used to win the USO in 2009. He reportedly only has 2-3 of those racquets left, and he has stuck to using those racquets ever since 2009.
At some point, DelPo will have to transition to the newer line of Wilson racquets. Perhaps this meeting with the Pope (and the handing off of one of his old racquets) will inspire him to tackle on that challenge!