Indian Wells champion and fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro faces a stern test of his form and fitness last on Chatrier when he takes on Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas. The Argentine, who had to withdraw from Rome with a groin injury, was not sure whether he would be able to play in Paris, but has looked solid so far. Ramos Vinolas had a disappointing clay court season by his standards, but will be pleased to be in with a chance of reaching the second week in Paris for the third year in a row. Who will win?
Ramos Vinolas and del Potro have met just once before, and not since 2013. That match came on the grass court lawns of Wimbledon in the first round, with del Potro winning in straight sets 6-2 7-5 6-1 and going onto reach the semifinals (lost to Djokovic). But what information a match on Ramos Vinolas’ worst surface five years ago provides about this clash is uncertain, as the conditions have little in common and both men are very different players now.
Path to the third round
Juan Martin del Potro began his French Open campaign against Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, a former world #1 in doubles. It was Mahut who made the better start, and del Potro looked out of sorts as he lost the first set 6-1. But he righted the ship thereafter, playing some fine tennis to record a 1-6 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory. He then defeated Julien Benneteau, who was playing his last French Open, 6-4 6-3 6-2 in the second round.
Ramos Vinolas’ first match in Paris saw him take on Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin. The first set was a closely-contested affair until the tiebreak which Ramos Vinolas won without losing a point. That turned the momentum decisively in his favour, with the Spaniard eventually triumphing 7-6 6-4 6-1. He then defeated the teenaged Norwegian qualifier Casper Ruud, who was making his debut in the Roland Garros main draw, 6-4 6-2 6-4.
How do they match up?
This match will, at its essence, be a clash between an attacking and a defensive baseliner. It is del Potro who will probably be the aggressor in the majority of rallies, for which he will rely on his forehand. There are none who hit the ball harder off that wing than the ‘Tower of Tandil’. His backhand has also improved since his return from two wrist surgeries. Though he no longer hits it as hard as he once did, del Potro guides the ball with his backhand very accurately and uses it down the line to good effect.
Though Ramos Vinolas is primarily a counter-punching baseliner, he is not without weapons. His forehand is his best. It may not match up to del Potro’s, but it is a useful shot. His backhand is also usually rock-solid. It will be interesting to see how much Ramos Vinolas tries to engage del Potro in crosscourt backhand rallies. The Argentine defends his backhand side very well, and it is often more profitable to attack his forehand. But Ramos Vinolas may not have the power to do that and get away with it.
This will be a real test of del Potro’s fitness. He certainly has the game to get through Ramos Vinolas, but the Spaniard is a veteran and he will be well aware that if he makes this into a physical battle, it could pay off handsomely in his favour. Fortunately for del Potro, he looks to be strong physically, and he has proven himself an excellent competitor time and again in his career. He won’t have it easy, but he will tough out the win in four sets.