32-year old Belgian Xavier Malisse is a former Wimbledon semi-finalist (in 2002). Now ranked no. 56, Malisse has won as many grass-court matches as current no. 1, Djokovic (47).
Due to severe rain delay, which saw Querrey’s 3-set defeat over Bedene stretch out to 6 hours, DelPo’s match against Malisse started at just around 6pm. Although DelPo needed three sets, he fought off the challenge to defeat Malisse in a very close match. DelPo’s footing on grass has never been comfortable and Malisse worked deftly to exploit this weakness on DelPo’s weaker surface.
The first set featured entertaining rallies between the two players and DelPo used his FH to take dictate the rallies, while occasionally showing his touch at the net. In the 1st set TB, Malisse made an UFE to hand the mini-break to DelPo, but DelPo would soon gift the MB back after a wild FH error. After leading 4-1, the TB was back on serve at 4-4. Malisse then hit an unfortunate DF at 5-5 to give DelPo SP, which DelPo took. DelPo’s first match after his return looked like it would be a smooth ride.
Then the second set happened. While DelPo was hitting his BHs cleanly, his attempts to mix up the BH with the slice were ineffective. It had the overall effect of making DelPo unable to hit his BH with depth and pace, while Malisse could both anticipate and feed easily off DelPo’s slice. Although DelPo served well throughout the match, he faced an all-too familiar problem of dealing with a player who could return with depth. In the 2nd set, DelPo would fall behind in rallies due to Malisse’s deep returns. After being broken in his opening service game, DelPo started making a series of unforced errors during rallies. At 0*-3, he went down 0-30 on his serve and stomped his foot on the ground in frustration. Malisse played a smart point to gain 3 BPs. While DelPo saved those BPs with strong serves, he hit a DF to give away a 4th BP, which Malisse took after a wide BH error from DelPo. During Malisse’s service game at 4*-0 in the 2nd set, DelPo’s feet slipped out from under him and he fell hard on the grass, as he tried to go for a FH return:
Thankfully, he seemed fine after the fall. Due to the rain and the slick surface of the grass, falls like this will unfortunately be a common sight, especially in matches involving the big man. DelPo rarely looks comfortable moving on the grass — this, combined with his rust, must have contributed to the problems today. There was a slightly funny moment when Malisse served for the 2nd set at 5*-1, 15-0. Malisse hit a smash and DelPo had to bend his back on the run to avoid being hit. Malisse ended up winning the 2nd set, 6-1.
DelPo needed to clean up his errors and use his power to grind down Malisse. In the 3rd set, however, he started having more trouble on his serve. His footwork and his poor mixing of the BHs slices brought up BP for Malisse. Off a befuddling error from DelPo, Malisse went up a break in the 3rd set, 2*-1. Malisse was still zoning. DelPo needed to dig deep here. DelPo started playing better in the rallies, but he had yet to make inroads on Malisse’s serves, mainly due to the Belgian’s great hands at the net. At one point, DelPo was left with his hands on his hips and a wry smile on his face, after Malisse managed a pick-up volley to hold. However, he sharpened up his groundstrokes to break back to bring the match back on serve at 3-3. Malisse would keep pushing DelPo though, as he gained 2BPs on DelPo’s next service game. DelPo seemed unsure how to tactically proceed. Off a loose BH error, Malisse would break again to lead 4*-3 in the decider.
Somehow, DelPo woke up and stepped up his game, as he hit a beautiful CCFH passing shot to reach deuce on Malisse’s next service game. At deuce, he hit a winning FH shot after a long BH slice rally, only to have the ball incorrectly called out. DelPo was unhappy with the linespeople, who were admittedly wrong on many occasions. He managed to break back. However, he would go down 0-30 on his serve at 5-5 again. Thankfully, he managed to avoid being broken again and he would break for the match at love (on a cross-court return of serve) to finally win after two hours.
In R3, DelPo will face Britain’s Dan Evans, who pulled off an early upset when he defeated Jarkko Nieminen in R2. DelPo has not won back-to-back matches since March this year. He will have to be much more consistent, but the hope is that this match against Malisse was instructive for his game. I think Malisse was just the right type of opponent to keep him on his toes throughout the match.
In his post-match interview, DelPo described the match as “intensitive.” In his video interview, he said he was feeling healthy and that he hoped to reach 100% with more match-play and practice.
All in all, DelPo’s first match back was a mixed bag. He had some slips and falls, but he managed to tough out a win over a tricky opponent. Hopefully, he’ll gain more consistency as he gets more match-play.
On Facebook, DelPo shared a mighty fine photo of himself relaxing in the locker room after his match. I suppose he owed it to everyone who lived through the ups-and-downs! I almost wouldn’t mind if he had to undergo similar rough stretches in his next match, so long as he overcomes them and shares another shirtless photo of himself. However, my rational side impels me to ask that DelPo win his next match more easily.
DelPo will play doubles today with Marin Cilic. The pair won their R1 match (over Andujar-Lopez) and will now face Nestor-Lindstedt. Unfortunately, that match will not be on a televised court.