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.