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:
@rogerfederer You are the only one, my locker-room neighbour.—
Juan M. del Potro (@delpotrojuan) October 08, 2013
There are a whole 2 months worth of results to catch up on, so let’s get started:
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.
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).
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):
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.
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)