How quickly the tables turned.
Nadal was able to break Del Potro on his next two service games to give him the second set and the momentum to win, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, at the BNP Paribas Open. This was Nadal’s 22nd Masters title, setting a new record, and his first hard-court title since 2010.
“Seriously, it’s impossible to have better comeback, no?” Nadal said to ESPN. “Happy for everything.”
Nadal was the story of the tournament, winning three of the last four events he has entered after suffering a left-knee injury that kept him sidelined for the past seven-and-a-half months.
However, Del Potro also played one of his best tournaments of 2013, defeating No. 3 seed Andy Murray and giving world No. 1 Novak Djokovic his first loss of 2013 en route to the final. Del Potro not only served well, but his forehand troubled Djokovic, hitting screaming winners deep in the court.
By the time Del Potro faced Nadal, he was out of gas, looking more fatigued as the match went on. After two days of playing in the hot desert sun and long quarterfinal and semifinal matches, Del Potro couldn't muster a final comeback in the deciding set on Sunday.
The fact that Del Potro took out two of the “Big Four” in back-to-back days is a good sign for the Argentine looking ahead for the 2013 season. During his breakthrough season in 2009, Del Potro had hard-court wins over Nadal in Miami and Montreal, Andy Roddick in Washington and the biggest of them all, Roger Federer (five-time defending champion) in New York.
Also, what’s most promising for Del Potro is that he can play his 2009 hard-court game again and work around his troubled wrist. For instance, against both Murray and Djokovic, Del Potro not only used his lethal forehand (which is not something new), but he mixed in a slice backhand that was a safer shot for his wrist. The shot gave both Murray and Djokovic problems.
Del Potro is reinventing his game on the hard courts, and so far, it’s working. Look for this to continue into the clay-court season, which is another surface he excels on.
It’s been a long road back from his 2009 season, but Del Potro should continue his hard-court success this week in Miami. Del Potro proved this past week that he can once again challenge the “Big Four” and get back into the Grand Slam mix.