Juan Martin Del Potro: Is This Man Ready to Stop Novak Djokovic's Streak?
Tomorrow evening, central European time, the most enticing match-up of the tournament so far will begin. It's the third round battle between the man who's forgotten how to lose and the friendly Argentinian giant, forever troubled by injuries.
There can be no doubt that Djokovic is the favorite in this match. He hasn't lost a match in six months and is on the verge of breaking John McEnroe's best ever start to a season in the Open era (42). In order to do just that, he has to go through the one person none of the top-players wanted in their quarter.
The reason they do not want Delpo there is simple. At his best, he's one of them.
Prior to his injury, he was up there in the top-five, where his skill and talent level seemed destined to take him. Both pre- and post injury, he's exhibited an impressive mental toughness. If the match is close, Delpo is likely to win it; no matter how short of match practice he might be.
That said, he's now up against the toughest challenge in men's tennis—beating the unstoppable, seemingly unbeatable Serb, Novak Djokovic.
That's right, the toughest challenge in men's tennis can no longer be said to be beating Nadal on clay. When John Isner is almost capable of doing it, 3-6 on clay this year prior to meeting Nadal, then just how hard can it be?
Jokes aside, beating Djokovic now does seem like a bigger challenge and a bigger accomplishment. How a month can change things up.
Is Delpo ready for it? Their head-to-head would suggest no. Djoko leads 3-0 and Delpo is yet to win a set. Yet, does matches where played either before or as Delpo was making his way to the top of men's tennis, not after he had reached it's pinnacle.
A month ago, I speculated whether Delpo was ready to take Nadal out in Madrid. I believed he was and that he would have. Alas, Delpo withdrew with injury and we'll never know the result of that match. Delpo and Djokovic share many of the same qualities on court.
Both have near impeccable ground strokes on both wings. Djokovic gets the advantage on the backhand side, whereas Delpo gets the forehand by a very slight margin. Both have very good return games, but again, nobody is quite on pair with Djokovic in this department right now.
Both have good serves and hold games and whereas Delpo probably still has the slightly bigger serve, Djokovic's hold game is still better as the rest of his game is so perfect right now.
The real difference between them lies in the movement. As good as Delpo moves for his size, he is a tall guy and that entails certain limitations in the agility department. When your opponent across the net is the best mover in the game right now, that spells trouble.
Moreover, we do not really know just how fit Delpo is right now. It is unlikely he can take Novak out in straights, but is he ready for five? We really do not know.
The key to the match for Delpo will be to get the first set and to keep the rallies relatively short, dictating with his big forehand. If anyone can hit through Djokovic' near perfect defense, Delpo is the man.
In all the matches Djokovic has won this year, he's only lost the first set twice. Incidentally, those matches were against Nadal. Will doubt creep into his mind if he loses the first? No. If he loses the first and gets down a break in the second? Perhaps.
Is it likely to happen?
As much as I like Delpo and want him to be back as a genuine contender, I doubt that he can do the impossible and stop Djokovic's streak. That said, I do believe Delpo has got as good a chance as any man in the draw of doing just that.
Nadal does not seem to know how. Neither does Federer. Thomas Belucci or Richard Gasquet in the fourth round? Not really. Delpo might just have what it takes to bring down the man who's forgotten how to lose.
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