Germany’s second seeded Alexander Zverev faces off against fellow top tenner Juan Martin del Potro for a place in the Acapulco final. Neither have enjoyed good starts to the season, with early exits at the Australian Open and subsequent struggles for form. Zverev recently parted ways with his coach, former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero. Del Potro has been struggling with personal issues, but both have found form this week. Who will make their first final of their season?
Zverev and del Potro have met just once so far, which is perhaps unsurprising considering del Potro’s numerous injury problems and Zverev’s youth. That meeting came last year at the Shanghai Masters in October in the round of 16. It was a match that found del Potro in excellent form and Zverev struggling. It was the German who made the better start winning the first set six games to three, but del Potro won the second in a tiebreak before a single break in the decider settled it in his favour.
Path to the semifinals
Zverev began his Acapulco campaign against American Mackenzie McDonald. McDonald, a former NCAA Division I champion, is still adapting to life on the main Tour, but put in a good effort against Zverev. The German ultimately had too much quality for McDonald, however, winning 6-3 7-5. That put Zverev into the second round where he faced his compatriot Peter Gojowyczk who last week made the final in Delray Beach (lost to Tiafoe). Zverev was made to work hard for the first set, winning it in a tiebreak 8-6 but was more comfortable in the second set winning it to complete a 7-6 6-3 victory.
Zverev then clashed with Ryan Harrison in the quarterfinals. Harrison had been embroiled in a controversy over alleged racial abuse of Donald Young at the New York Open though he was cleared by the ATP’s investigation. But in Acapulco he had played well in defeating two top 20 players in Isner and Schwartzman back-to-back. But Zverev dismissed him comfortably as he won just five games in a 4-6 1-6 loss.
Del Potro made a dominant start at the Mexican Open. He crushed Zverev’s elder brother Mischa Zverev 6-1 6-2 in what was another disappointing performance from the net-rusher who has won just twice this season. He was made to work rather harder by long-time rival and former world #3 David Ferrer. The pair split the opening two sets, but it was del Potro who won through in the decider to complete a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win. He then overcame third seed Dominic Thiem 6-2 7-6 to make the last four.
How do they match up?
Both men are powerful attacking baseliners. They both also stand well over six feet tall but are good movers for men of their considerable size. The centre piece of del Potro’s game is his forehand which is arguably the biggest the game has ever seen. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ is able to hit it with seemingly little spin whilst also deploying devastating power, which can make him almost unplayable. Indeed, each of the Big Four have at one point been undone by his impressive power.
Zverev cannot call on as much power off the forehand side as his opponent, but he is blessed with an extremely impressive backhand. The German is comfortable stepping in to the shot and can take it both cross court and down the line with power. His forehand is also a useful weapon, however, it is more liable to breaking down and bleeding unforced errors than his backhand when he is having a bad match.
The match up is an interesting one for Zverev to approach tactically. Since a serious left wrist injury that kept him away from Tour for the better part of two years and required surgeries, del Potro’s backhand has been a perceived weakness. But the Argentine has improved the shot continuously since his return and is now striking it with confidence, even if it is not the shot it once was. He also defends it incredibly well, and many players have tried unsuccessfully to break it down.
Nadal showed the value of attacking the del Potro forehand at last year’s US Open. By attacking that wing aggressively del Potro was denied the chance to deploy his forehand aggressively as often as he would have liked. That exerted both mental and physical pressure on him that he was ultimately unable to withstand. It could be a strategy that Zverev could follow to his considerable advantage. However, it does require almost perfect execution as the del Potro forehand is a dangerous place to go.
Both men are capable of playing at an incredibly high level when they are at their best. That makes this a difficult match to call. However, although on the surface of it Zverev looks to be in the better form, having not yet dropped a set, del Potro has had the tougher draw. Clashes against players of the quality of David Ferrer and Dominic Thiem will have forced del Potro to find his best level in a way that Gojowyczk and Harrison may not have done for Zverev. That will help the Argentine to a three set win.
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