Monthly Archives: October 15, 2021

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga passed some important tests in his second and third round matches in Paris.

Damn, the guy is a shotmaker. In the third game of the match in the Paris Masters event between Radek Stepanek and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Stepanek hit a lazy forehand to the middle of the ad court and Tsonga ran around his backhand until he was standing smack dab in the middle of the doubles alley and hit an inside out forehand at such an angle that it landed in the corner of the opposite service box.

Stepanek is a funny hybrid player. He does everything well but nothing spectacularly. He serves enough aces to be a consistent serve and volleyer, he can be magical at the net – he’s the best doubles player among the singles player but maybe only because Roger Federer hardly ever plays doubles. And he’s willing to be the villain.

Mind games have gone out of fashion in the current version of the ATP tour except for some systemic tics like Rafael Nadal’s 30 second time outs between each point (you can page through a Nadal match quick and easy by clicking on the skip forward button on your DVR remote which skips ahead exactly 30 seconds) and Novak Djokovic’s incessant ball bouncing, but Stepanek has an entire range of annoyance tactics that rival his bag of strategic skills. Tsonga was serving at 1-2 in the first set when Stepanek spun a beautiful pirouette and hit a backhand volley winner then backpedaled the entire length of the court in appreciation of his marvelousness.

Stepanek is lucky he’s not a baseball player. If he hit a home run and pulled off that same behavior on a baseball field, the next time he came to plate he’d find a baseball lodged in his ear. I suppose Tsonga could direct a serve at Stepanek’s private parts, it has been done before though, I believe, not intentionally. Tsonga had his chance. He can be just as magical at the net but he let Stepanek take control of the net and found himself down set point in the first set after having lost his serve. Stepanek served and volleyed and did a showman’s leap when he hit a short hop volley off Tsonga’s return. If I were Tsonga, I’d have rocketed the ball right at Stepanek’s head being the hothead I am. Tsonga, not as hotheaded but maybe a slight bit annoyed at Stepanek’s show, overhit his approach shot and that was that, Stepanek had the first set 6-3.

Tsonga has never played Stepanek before and it was an important growing up moment for him. You can’t blast a trickster off the court because they’ll avoid getting into a groundstroke battle with you by taking away the net just as Stepanek did in this match. Any top player should be able to overpower Stepanek, but it takes skill and it was interesting to watch Tsonga try to figure it out.

Tsonga beat that other trickster, Fabrice Santoro, on a fast surface in Lyon last week but it took him three sets to do it and by the look of this match today, I’m guessing Stepanek could have beaten him on a slower outdoor court. As for Stepanek, let’s see how Tsonga figured him out.

Serving at 2-3 in the second set, Stepanek took another one of his little showman hops as he hit another cute shot at the net, but this time Tsonga hit a beautiful cross court approach shot for a winner and followed that up with a passing shot down the line to get his first break point. Not only did that get Tsonga’s home crowd going but it got Stepanek in trouble. On break point, Stepanek hit a fault then smashed the ball in anger to the consternation of Tsonga’s people. He followed that up with a double fault to lose his serve. You live by annoyance, you die by annoyance.

But Tsonga still hadn’t figured it out. Serving at 4-2 he saved two break points by outsteadying Stepanek – rule number one against the trickster: keep the ball in play – and taking over the net, but he still ended up giving the break back because he couldn’t handle Stepanek’s elegant junk. It looked like he’d finally figured it out when he gobbled up Stepanek’s slices and misdirections and pulled even by winning the second set 6-4, but he lost his serve again early in the third set because he didn’t get to the net and when he did, he wasn’t putting the ball away. He couldn’t quite decide when to smash the ball or not.

Tsonga is a rhythm player and an emotion player. Those passing shots gave him his rhythm and then, with Stepanek serving to stay in the match at 4-5, he found his emotion. He hit a shot down the line he thought was in because he couldn’t hear the out call over the roar of the crowd and by then it was too late to challenge. That got him mad and now he started going for his shots instead of fooling around and he came up with three great shots in a row to close out the match: a beautiful running passing shot, a high looping topspin lob that landed just inside the line, and a return that curled round the doubles alley and back into the court. He had the break on Stepanek and he had the match, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Tsonga’s third round opponent, Novak Djokovic, is a different matter altogether. He WILL slug it out with you from the baseline and he has a better backhand than Tsonga. But he’s not as cute at the net and that is Tsonga’s advantage. Would Tsonga figure out how to use it?

Pretty much, yeah. Djokovic was serving at 2-2 in the first set when Tsonga hit a drop shot. He followed that up with a push volley that should have been a putaway volley, but he managed to win the point by picking off a lob volley and hitting in right at Djokovic to get a break point. Djokovic hit an error on an easy forehand to lose his serve and then it was time to ask: Can Djokovic get through an entire season and stay in top form? Or, more to the point, will Andy Murray overtake Djokovic before Djokovic can overtake Roger Federer?

Djokovic is in the top four and the other three players are trucking along and he’s not. Rafael Nadal, Federer, and Murray are still alive in Paris and each of them reached the semifinals in Madrid, while Djokovic lost to Tsonga in the Bangkok final then lost early in Madrid. You could say Djokovic did better last fall when he won the title in Vienna and reached the semifinals in Madrid.

Djokovic has three sterling titles this year: the Australian Open, and the Masters Series events in Rome and Indian Wells, but Murray has a slam final, two Masters Series events, and five titles altogether – the same number Djokovic had last year. So it’s not looking good for Djokovic if Murray can stay injury free.

Tsonga held onto his break to take the first set though it wasn’t easy, and he showed his Pete Sampras jump overhead early in the second set. Athleticism is all good and well but consistency is better as Tsonga lost his serve a few points later then completely fell apart in the second set. His thigh was bothering him – he took a medical time out at the end of the second set which he lost 6-1 – but he had only to look across the net to find someone who plays well despite injury, real or imagined.

And you could say Tsonga learned that lesson too. In Djokovic’s first service game in the third set, Tsonga lunged to return a wide serve then ran down a low shot to the other corner and batted the ball past Djokovic at the net for a break point. Then he outdid that on the next point by flicking a deep Djokovic volley crosscourt for the break.

In both of Tsonga’s matches he played a few magical points in very important situations to get the win. Before we get carried away, we should remember that while Djokovic has trouble staying strong the entire year, Tsonga barely plays half the year due to his multiple injuries. But we did see some important progress this past few days and I’m thrilled about that because I’m still looking forward to seeing that magic in many more slams to come.

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Why does France have so many good young black players? Italian player Federico Luzzi dies of leukemia at age 28.

France is one of the more successful countries when it comes to developing young black tennis players. Why is that? I can think of two reasons. Lack of competing sports: France has soccer, tennis, and basketball, but the U.S., for instance, has football and baseball on top of that and then, of course, there’s the expense – learning soccer and basketball is a whole lot cheaper than private tennis lessons. Lots of countries fit into that same category, though, and private tennis lessons are expensive everywhere, so what else explains it? The National Sports Institute, as it says on Josselin Ouanna‘s French language Wiki page, “identifies and integrates” young players and develops them.

Since I’m not good in French, I used a google translation of Ouanna’s Wiki page and the translation was rather amusing. It referred to the “blackteam” of Ouanna, Gael Monfils, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – three black French tennis players, and uses the following incredibly poetic phrasing to describe Ouanna’s current ranking of 173: “his body left to the quiet that allows it to integrate the 173rd place after his victory on 14 October 2008 to challenger tournament in Rennes.” I can almost hear Ouanna take a big breath, relax his shoulders, and lazily think to himself, “Aaaaah, thank heavens my body is now resting in ranking place number 173.”

Love his first name by the way, Josselin. Reminds me of Phedre’s consort Joscelin Verreuil in the wonderful historical fantasy trilogy, Kushiels’s Legacy. If you like sex, fantasy, and history, and who doesn’t, you’ll be entranced by these three books.

Ouanna and Monfils are both 6ft 4in (193cm) and Ouanna and Tsonga both go 200lb (90kg). I’m guessing the National Sports Institute doesn’t identify and integrate short kids.

Ouanna showed good touch around the net in his match with Robin Soderling today in Paris, and excuse me for typecasting, but Ouanna’s got that artistic thing we associate with the French and it’s not just his one-handed backhand. Maybe it was all the more noticeable because his Soderling is so dogged and stern in his personality and his tennis. Soderling serves the ball hard but it’s almost like he’s hitting against his body because there’s so little shoulder rotation. His forehand reminds me of Lleyton Hewitt: he brings the racket back way behind him and hits with a lot of arm. I’d like to send him to my sports trainer guy and familiarize him with the concept of the kinetic chain: the idea that strength is best served by all parts of the body working in sequence instead of isolating one’s arm, say, and using it to bludgeon the hell out of the ball.

Having said that, Soderling’s doggedness serves him well. As of Tuesday, he was ranked number 17 but he’s still in contention for a place in the year end championships. And though I discounted Tsonga when I first saw him at the French Open – I thought he was too slow which tells you how good I am at spotting talent – it doesn’t look like Ouanna has enough skills to force his game on anyone. He performed pretty well, losing by the not too bad score of 6-3, 6-4, but most of his success came from hanging in the point until his opponent made an error, and while there are plenty of retrievers at the top level, most of them have more power than Ouanna does.

I watched the Monfils – Juan Monaco match because I wanted to know what Roger Rasheed has that Monfils’ millions of other coaches didn’t have. Monfils changes coaches on a whim but Rasheed, Llleyton Hewitt’s former coach and now Monfils’ coach, has Monfils moving up the rankings while Monfils’ many other coaches couldn’t do anything with him. How do you get a player to focus, stop eating junk food, and probably hardest of all, play aggressive tennis when you’re style is fundamentally defensive?

Before I get to that though, I noticed that Monfils’ opponent in Paris, Juan Monaco, was wearing a black ribbon. I assume that’s in honor of Federico Luzzi, the 28 year old Italian player who died of Leukemia last week. Luzzi was ranked in the 400’s but he did make it into the top 100 at one point in his career.

I got to thinking about that because a dear friend of mine died in a car accident last month and when I try to play tennis, sometimes it’s just ridiculous. The ball bounces off the side of my racket and yesterday I caught a ball that was served to me even though it landed in the service box. I just can’t function properly and you can’t anticipate the path of grieving because it has a mind of its own.

I find it hard to imagine flying off the Paris and playing a top level event while grieving the loss of a friend. All of which is to say that covering tennis these past five years has given me a huge appreciation for the high level of tennis I see day after day in some pretty trying circumstances.

Looking at the beginning of Monfils’ match with Monaco, it didn’t look like Rasheed has done anything to make Monfils more aggressive. Monfils went down 3-0 to Monaco in the first set pretty quickly. In the next game, however, Monfils started off with three straight aces and followed that up by breaking Monaco, but not because he was aggressive, Monaco was the aggressor, but because he took advantage of Monaco’s aggression. Same thing on the first point in the next game – Monfils was now on serve at 2-3. Monaco had Monfils running corner to corner but when Monaco got to the net, he nicked a passing shot with his racket that was going long and Monfils won the point.

I gotta say that even though Monfils is defensive, he’s the most entertaining defensive player I’ve even seen. He had two break points on Monaco at 4-4 in the first set and Monaco started him off with a serve wide followed up with a backhand to the opposite corner, naturally. Monfils retrieved the ball with a lob and then returned Monaco’s overhead with a leaping ballet-like forehand that landed in the far corner of the court. As magical as that was, here’s the problem: he drove Monaco to the baseline then let him back into the point and Monaco finished it off with a forehand winner. That is Gael Monfils in full.

And maybe that’s enough. Monfils got the break on the next point then served out to take the first set by winning six of the last seven games. And after trading breaks at the beginning of the second set, Monfils broke again and won the match, 6-4, 6-3. All that and he’s ranked number 16 and climbing. Rasheed must be doing something right.

I didn’t stay on the match between Radek Stepanek and Marc Gicquel very long but I did catch a classic point between these two players who depend on their brains as much as their physical skills. Gicquel was serving at deuce at the beginning of the second set after Stepanek had won the first set. At one point in the rally, Gicquel and Stepanek hit nine straight crosscourt slices between them before Gicquel directed one of his slices down the line. After another yet another slicefest, Stepanek snuck into the net, scooped up a sliced passing shot down the line, and followed that up with backhand flick of a shot that went crosscourt at a wicked angle. Stepanek ran back to the baseline to pick up Gicquel’s response – a slice, of course – and tried to pass Gicquel who met the ball with his own wickedly angled drop shot that was so soft the ball just died on the green-colored court.

Keep in mind that this entire point took place on a fast indoor court. I don’t think there’s a statistical category for slices but if there were, this match would have challenged the world record for a fast court. Stepanek lost that second set but won the match, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Before I end the day, I just want to look at Roger Federer for a minute. I’ve been wondering if his mono is turning into schizophrenia. Here is a selection of recent quotes from Rog:

That’s not what my life’s about anymore [rankings]. It’s about winning titles and that’s what I’m really excited about.

Often you’re on the tour and you go week by week and you’re like, `Oh my god, I’ve got quarter-final points to defend from last year’, but now when I come into a Grand Slam I don’t care if I have 1000 points to defend or 50.

I served well and played aggressively so I couldn’t ask for more today. It really hasn’t been too bad a year. Next year I want to get the No. 1 spot and maybe win a few more Masters Series events but otherwise I’ll be happy to stay at generally the same level.

I know we’ve been talking about this recently on Tennis Diary and maybe that’s because we don’t know what Roger’s going to do because he doesn’t know. Whaddya think? Will he try to get the number one ranking back or focus on those slams next year?

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 190 user reviews.

It’s time for the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out our Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game. Sign up and join our subleague! It’s called tennisdiary.com. We send weekly email updates to all subleague members before the submission deadline.

This week’s submission deadline is Monday morning, October 27, 4am (EST) in the U.S./10am (CET) in Europe.

Here we are at the end of our fantasy tennis season. This week’s Masters Series event in Paris is the last event. It might be easy to pick because most of us have used up the top players. We need eight players for our team so let’s pick two players from each quarter – the quarterfinalists.

Paris draw (carpet, first prize: $553, 846)

Rafael Nadal is the top seed but everyone has used him up, so Gael Monfils is the second best choice. He’s 2-0 over Marat Safin and he reached the semifinals in Bangkok, the final in Vienna, and the quarterfinals in Madrid.
There are three qualifiers in the second section so check the final draw before you submit your picks to see if anyone interesting qualified through to the main draw. For now I have to choose between Stanislas Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, and Nikolay Davydenko. I’ve used up Berdych and Wawrinka has only one win in his last three events. Davydenko won this event two years ago, reached the quarterfinals the year before that, and is 7-0 over Berdych. I was smart enough to save my last Davydenko for this event so he’s my pick.

There are two quarterfinalists and one semifinalist from last year’s draw in the third section. Andy Murray was a quarterfinalist and he’s on a tear. He’s 13-1 indoors, he won Madrid, and he’s in the final in St. Petersburg, but I’ve used him up. Marcos Baghdatis was a semifinalist last year but he lost in the first round in Metz and Basel and didn’t play Madrid. Tommy Robredo was a quarterfinalist last year too but he hasn’t been past the second round indoors this year. Fernando Verdasco reached the quarterfinals in Vienna and the semifinals in St. Petersburg so he might be the second best choice to Murray, but he’s never been past the second round here and I’ve used him up, so I’m going to look elsewhere in the draw for a player.

Juan Martin Del Potro and David Nalbandian appear to be joined at the hip. They met in Madrid, with Del Potro winning, and Nalbandian just beat Del Potro in the Basel semifinals. I’m picking them both because I need an extra player to make up for the last section and they’re both on a roll.

Andy Roddick has two semifinals and a quarterfinal in five trips to Paris but I’ve used him up. Gilles Simon reached the final in Madrid – where he beat Igor Andreev – and the semifinals in Lyon, but I’ve used him up too. Feliciano Lopez reached the semifinals in Vienna and Basel and the quarterfinals in Madrid, but he could play Roddick in the second round and he’s 0-4 against him. I’m picking Paul-Henri Mathieu out of sheer desperation because he’s 2-0 over Andreev on fast courts, and he’s 3-0 over Simon including a win on indoor hard court in Marseille this year.

Novak Djokovic is the top seed in the next section but most people have used him up. He hasn’t gone past the second round here though I expect he will this year. Radek Stepanek reached the semifinals the last time he played this event in 2005, and the year before that he reached the final. Since then, though, he’s 3-3 on carpet. For that reason, I’m picking Jo-Wilfried Tsonga because he’s 9-3 indoors this year and just reached the semifinals on carpet in Lyon.

James Blake has never been past the third round here but he did beat Jarkko Nieminen the last three times they met indoors, he beat Mikhail Youzhny on a slick indoor surface in the Davis Cup final last year, and he beat David Ferrer the only time they met indoors. I’ve used up all my Blakes, though, so I need to pick between Ferrer and Youzhny who both reached the quarterfinals here last year, but are having awful fall indoor seasons. Ferrer beat Youzhny on carpet in 2003 and Youzhny beat Ferrer in Rotterdam last year. I’m going with Youzhny because he won their most recent matchup and at least he’s got one win this fall indoors.

The last section is tough to pick because I’ve used up Richard Gasquet – who’s been playing poorly anyway, Robin Soderling, and Roger Federer. That leaves me with Marin Cilic and Andreas Seppi. Cilic was 5-2 on indoor hard court last year but he’s 2-4 this year and he has only two career wins on carpet. Seppi’s record is pretty similar. I’m going with Seppi because he beat Cilic on hard court in Davis Cup this year on Cilic’s home court in Croatia.

Picks

Here are my picks for this week: Monfils, Davydenko, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Mathieu, Tsonga, Youzhny, and Seppi.

Happy fantasies!

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ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks for Basel, Lyon, and St. Petersburg

It’s time for the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out our Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

Sign up and join our subleague! It’s called tennisdiary.com. We send weekly email updates to all subleague members before the submission deadline.

This week’s submission deadline is Monday morning, October 20, 2am (EST) in the U.S./8am (CET) in Europe.

There are three tournaments this week: Basel, Lyon, and St. Petersburg. Next week is the last event of the fantasy tennis season and it’s the Masters Series event in Paris, so save your best players for that. I need eight players for my fantasy team so let’s pick the semifinalists in each event and pick the best eight players from those semifinalists.

Basel draw (carpet, first prize: $223, 384)
Lyon draw (carpet, first prize: $177, 692)
St. Petersburg draw (indoor hard court, $171, 000)

Roger Federer is the top seed in Basel but I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t used him five times this year. If you haven’t, save him for next week. Tomas Berdych reached the quarterfinals last year but I’ve used him up already. Jarkko Nieminen is here and he reached the finals last year, but he’s 0-9 against Federer and 0-3 against Berdych. Marcos Baghdatis is a possibility because he reached the semifinals last year and the final three years ago, but he’s been injured so often lately that I don’t think you can count on him. I’m skipping to the next quarter.

The second quarter isn’t any easier to pick because I’ve used up James Blake. Nicolas Kiefer reached the quarterfinals last year but he’s got one win indoors this year. I’m picking Feliciano Lopez who just reached the semifinals in Vienna and the quarterfinals in Madrid.

Igor Andreev and Juan Martin Del Potro are in the third quarter. I’ve used all my Andreevs and I’m saving Del Potro for next week. I don’t think anyone else in this quarter can beat Del Potro so I’m skipping down to the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter has the two best bets in Stanislaw Wawrinka and David Nalbandian. Nalbandian has reached the quarterfinals or better in four of the last five years and he’s 6-1 indoors, so I’m going with him.

I don’t like to do it because Basel has a bigger payday, but I’m picking two players from Basel: Lopez and Nalbandian.

Sebastien Grosjean is in the first quarter in Lyon and he won this event last year, but he’s lost in the first round of the last four tournaments he’s played and hasn’t won anything indoors this year. I’ve used up all of my Andy Roddicks and Robin Soderlings and they’re in the first quarter too so, let’s skip down to the second quarter.

I’ve used up Gilles Simon. Ivo Karlovic just beat Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic in Madrid before losing to Simon, so Karlovic is the best choice left. Ivan Ljubicic reached the quarterfinals last year and he’s always dangerous on carpet, but he couldn’t get out of qualifying in Madrid this week, so I’m going with Karlovic.

The third quarter is tough to pick. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is 6-2 indoors this year and he reached the quarterfinals last year, but Marc Gicquel is his first round opponent and Gicquel reached the final the past two years. Tsonga and Gicquel played each other in futures and split their two matches. Fabrice Santoro is also in this part of the draw and he reached the semifinals in Moscow. Paul-Henri Mathieu is at the top of this quarter and he’s had a good year indoors, but he retired during his match with Santoro in Moscow and lost in the first round in Madrid. I’m going with Tsonga because he’s beaten higher quality opponents than either Gicquel or Santoro and I’m not sure Mathieu can beat Sam Querrey.

In the bottom quarter, Tommy Robredo is having a miserable year indoors so I’m going to have to depend on Radek Stepanek to beat Richard Gasquet because I’ve used up all my Gasquets. There is hope. Gasquet won this event two years ago but that’s the only time he’s been past the second round and he’s having an average year indoors.

I’m taking Karlovic, Tsonga, and Stepanek in Lyon.

Andy Murray is the top seed in St. Petersburg and he won this event last. It’s a bit surprising he’s here because he’s in the final in Madrid, he has Paris next week, and he’s already sewed up a place in the year end Masters Cup. Mario Ancic is here too and he won this event two years ago but he can’t beat Murray. I’ve used up all my Murrays so I’m skipping this quarter.

Fernanado Verdasco is in the second quarter and he has two low ranked wild cards in his section. He also beat Rainer Schuettler in Dubai this year. Igor Kunitsyn beat Dmitry Tursunov in Moscow so I’m going with Verdasco.

In the third quarter Mikhail Youzhny has reached the quarterfinals or better here in four of the last five years. Marat Safin is waiting for him in the quarterfinals, however, and Safin is 3-0 over him including one win indoors. I’m taking Safin because he’s 5-2 in Russia this year, has won 80% of his matches in Russia, and Youzhny lost in the first round in Moscow and Madrid.

Marin Cilic is in the fourth quarter. He got to the semifinals here last year and he just reached the third round in Madrid beating Verdasco along the way. Cilic is also 2-0 over Nikolay Davydenko and beat him here last year, so Cilic is my pick.

That gives me Verdasco, Safin, and Cilic in St. Petersburg.

Picks

Here are my picks: Lopez, Nalbandian, Karlovic, Tsonga, Stepanek, Verdasco, Safin, Cilic.

Happy fantasies!

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Juan Martin Del Potro beat David Nalbandian in Madrid and may be on the way to passing him in the rankings too..

Juan Martin Del Potro broke David Nalbandian in the first game of their match in the Masters Series event in Madrid with a running passing shot down the line. Nalbandian had run Del Potro to one side of the court then the other and come to the net, but he gave up on the passing shot because he didn’t think it was going in. He knows how good Del Potro is, we all do, but Del Potro shot into the top ten so quickly that we’re all having trouble really believing it.

Eleven players have won four titles as teenagers and 10 of them went on to reach the number one ranking. I wonder which one didn’t reach number one. Anyone know? Any guesses?

I do know that none of them won their first four tournaments in a row as Del Potro did this summer and that was the shocking thing. This spring I was wondering what had happened to Del Potro. I knew he was tall and he had a killer backhand, but I’d been following the other young players Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic and for good reason. Djokovic won a slam and Murray has been in the top 20 for much of the year while Del Potro was ranked number 81 at one point this year.

By the time Del Potro got to Los Angeles in early August, he’d already won two tournaments in a row and we asked him, as often as we could and in as many different ways as we could: What happened? What did he do? What did he change? How did he explain his sudden run up the rankings? His English isn’t great and he’s not the most expansive talker so most of the answers were variations of this: I changed my coach and he changed my conditioning.

That second one is a biggie because Del Potro is the king of match retirements – I stopped counting them already – and one of them was highly consequential. His retirement against James Blake in the Las Vegas round robin event last year toned the death knell for round robin events when ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers momentarily passed Blake onto the next round despite the fact that he hadn’t won enough games to advance because Del Potro retired. This pissed everyone off and showed that de Villiers didn’t understand the format he’d introduced to the tour. Thanks a lot Juan Martin, I actually loved round robins. It’s all your fault!

His new coach may have improved Del Potro’s conditioning but I did notice that he took off for Argentina and skipped both Masters Series events in Toronto and Cincinnati after winning those two clay court events in Europe. He also gave Philipp Kohlschreiber a walkover in Vienna last week because he split a toenail.

Del Potro is a fragile guy physically and much of his maturity has been a process of coming into his body. He’s 6’6” (198cm) and he’s had breathing issues and other niggling problems but no big injuries, just enough to knock him out of a tournament one week and let him turn up the next week to try again. It’s almost as if someone came along and tied him to one of those stretching racks you see in old horror movies and then slowly turned the crank over the period of a few years. Along the way, each little bit of his body had to fill out and adjust to every new inch and there were some aches and pains along the way, but when he reached his final height, he popped off that stretching rack and out of the lab and, bam!, he won four straight tournaments and he hasn’t stopped climbing the rankings yet.

Nalbandian hit an approach into the net to lose a second service game and go down 0-3. He got one of those breaks back but Del Potro closed out the first set and he did it in style with a 22 stroke rally that looked like Nalbandian in his prime. You can see it at the end of the video above. He’s not as strong as Nalbandian but he’s got a better serve and he uses his height to smash winners at extreme angles.

I’m curious about the relationship between Del Potro and Nalbandian. Del Potro hit a shot right at Nalbandian’s body in the first set – Nalbandian threw him a look – and their post-match meeting at the net was cursory at best. It’s certainly not the same relationship that Carlos Moya has with his young charge and fellow Davis Cup teammate Rafael Nadal and that’s a bit surprising because Del Potro is the bright young light of Nalbandian’s Argentina and these days, players are so loved dovey with each other that I expected a bit more love at the net. And Moya doesn’t seem to begrudge Nadal his success even though Moya is slipping down the rankings at this point in his career.

If Nalbandian were a bit jealous of Del Potro, I’d understand because Del Potro has done the one thing that always frustrated us about Nalbandian – win tournaments. Four years after Nalbandian won his first title, he had five titles to his name and none of them were Masters Series events except for the Tennis Masters Cup in 2005, the highlight of his career. This is the sixth straight year he’s spent significant time in the top ten and he has one slam final to show for it plus the Madrid and Paris title last year.

Del Potro started the second set off the same way he started the first set, with a break of serve, this time on a Nalbandian error. Nalbandian gave him another break on a double fault to put Del Potro up 5-2 and that was that.

In the past four years Nalbandian had two semifinals, a final, and a title in Madrid, but his string of good results ended today and it was a significant event. He beat Del Potro here last year in their only previous meeting. Nalbandian said that his focus at the moment is preparing for the Davis Cup final against Spain to be held in Argentina after the Tennis Masters Cup. Del Potro was the Argentinean who won both his matches in the Davis Cup semifinals this year, not Nalbandian, and it’s likely that trend will continue.

Will Del Potro go with the odds and make it to number one at some point in his career? In the immediate future he’d have to overtake Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic – who lost to Ivo Karlovic today and may have blown his chance at overtaking Federer this year, and Andy Murray.

Del Potro will outlast Federer, he’s better on clay than Murray, and he has a chance to be almost as consistent as Djokovic on all surfaces – two of Del Potro’s four wins this year were on clay, two on outdoor hard court. So I’ll say he can sneak into the number one ranking for at least a week over those three players. I’m also going to say that this was a career year for Nadal and though he’ll hold onto the number one ranking for a while, it won’t be the five years that Federer held it.

I know your answer already Sakhi, and I’ve already lost enough bets with you, but I’m going with a yes on this guy. Del Potro will find himself at number one at some point in his career. If 10 out of 11 players who won four events as teenagers reached number one, those odds are too good to pass up.

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