In what is probably the biggest match-up of the 2009 Wimbledon so far (aside from Gulbis-Murray), No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro faces 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt today. This second round encounter should feature many interesting contrasts, not least of which will be the seven-inch difference in height.
Juan Martin del Potro
One of the breakout successes of 2008 was that of the towering Argentine del Potro, who at one stretch won four straight titles last summer. This year his upward trend has continued, displayed in a very strong result at the 2009 Roland Garros, where he was but one set from reaching the final.
He has looked impressive so far in England, easily dispatching the veteran counterpuncher Arnaud Clement in three not-so-competitive sets. Now, in round two he faces a better version of Clement in Hewitt, who serves better and volleys better, and requires less effort to slug groundstrokes than the diminutive Frenchman.
Will Win If
As del Potro was climbing the rankings last year, his 6’6 height disguised the fact that he was yet another power baseliner: He moved quite well for a player of that stature, but his serve was strangely underwhelming.
His greatest improvement this year would appear to be in his serve, which was outstanding in Paris. There, his quarterfinal victim Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stated that, as soon as the Argentine finishes his service motion, “he’s already at the net.”
When his serve was not a huge part of his game, he endured an embarrassing loss to Roger Federer in Australia, winning only three games. At the RG, however, he outaced the Swiss 16-5, which enabled him to push Federer to five sets.
In his first round match against Clement del Potro’s serving was imperious: 10 aces, no double-faults, and putting 69 percent of his first serves into play. The young Argentine (still not quite 21) says he grew up admiring Pete Sampras, and his service speed was Pistol-like: an average of 120 mph on the first delivery and 107 on the second serve.
If he maintains these numbers, del Potro is a threat to win more than just this match.
Will Lose If
With his legendary speed diminished by age and hip surgery, the Australian Hewitt’s only clear advantages over the Argentine are heart and experience. On numerous occasions Hewitt has been outhit and outplayed by an opponent, only to cling to his service games, wait for his opponent’s level to drop, and then catch fire (see the Baghdatis, Marcos episode from the 2008 Australian Open and the Federer, Roger entry in the 2003 Davis Cup).
Falling behind early only gives Hewitt a pretense to rally and fire up the crowd, so del Potro must drop the blade on the Australian when he gets a chance.
An aging veteran such as Clement who has never been a great grass court player may not have been the best test of del Potro’s skills on the only tennis surface that breathes. As stated, del Potro will win this match if his huge serving continues, but can he sustain it against a competitor like Hewitt?
Otherwise, it’s hard to say how the two match up: This is their first-ever meeting.
Shots to Look For
Hewitt has one of the most solid two handed backhand drives of this (or any other) era, but he may choose to employ a slice to make the lanky Argentine get down for low balls, which may bother him.
Del Potro, for his part, may choose forehand-to-forehand rallies whenever possible, considering this strategy most favorable for him.
Del Potro may overpower Hewitt from the get-go, or perhaps the first set will be tight; either way I see him taking it and building an early lead. Hewitt, however, is still cagey enough to nab a set from the taller man, and I expect he will win set three before falling in four.