In a rematch of their thriller in Acapulco last week, sixth seeded Juan Martin del Potro takes on former world #3 David Ferrer. Both men endured starts to the year that fell below the high standards they have come to expect from themselves. But both have begun to find some form of late, making this a potentially mouth watering clash between two of the finest players of a great generation. But who will come out on top?
As befitting two players who have spent the better part of their careers in the top ten, del Potro and Ferrer have a long standing rivalry. It began a decade ago at the Australian Open in the second round, and has featured another 11 matches since. David Ferrer won that first match when del Potro was forced to retire trailing by two sets. Ferrer also won the next match, in Den Bosch in the semifinals later that year, before del Potro took the next two, in Tokyo in 2008 and in Miami in 2009 to level the head-to-head.
Ferrer then defeated the ‘Tower of Tandil’ in the Davis Cup final in 2011 which the Spanish went on to win. That was followed by three victories in 2012, including at the ATP Finals in the round robin. However, it was then del Potro’s turn to take charge of the rivalry. Beginning with a straight sets win in the Wimbledon quarterfinals the Argentine has won the last four matches between the pair, including two this year in Auckland in the semifinals and then in the round of 16.
Path to the third round
Del Potro, seeded sixth, received a bye into the second round. There he began his Indian Wells campaign against Alex De Minaur, the Australian teenager who had such an exciting start to the year. De Minaur made it to the semifinals in Brisbane before battling through to the Sydney final. He then conquered Jan Lennard Struff in three sets to set up the meeting with del Potro this week. But the Argentine is one of the form players on Tour and brushed aside the teenager’s challenge, losing just three games in a 6-2 6-1 win.
David Ferrer, who as 29th seed also received a bye into the second round, began against Tennys Sandgren. Sandgren, who made a surprise run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, was making his debut at Masters 1000 level but secured his place in the second round when Nikoloz Basilashvili retired from their first round match trailing by a set and 2-1. Ferrer proved to be too great of a step up in quality for the Tennessee native, as the former French Open finalist came through a 6-3 7-6 winner.
How do they match up?
Both men have competed at the highest-level, however, they possess very different games. Ferrer, who has always lacked the explosive power of many of his rivals, compensated with an arguably peerless attitude. That attitude, coupled with solid groundstrokes and impressive fitness, allowed the Spaniard to grind down most of his opponents, although he was never quite able to trouble the very best. Still, it did fire him to 27 career titles, including one at Masters 1000 level.
Del Potro likely had the talent to rank alongside the Big Four that dominated the game over the last decade and a half. He showed that when he won the US Open in 2009, defeating Roger Federer in five sets in the final. Injuries have limited him since then, and he has undergone three wrist surgeries since 2010. Despite that, he still possesses one of the most powerful games on Tour, particularly off his forehand which is surely the biggest in the sport.
How Ferrer is able to deal with del Potro’s power will be crucial. The Spaniard is no longer the player he once was. He turns 36 next month, and his formerly tireless legs have begun to fail him more often. He still has the quality and experience to trouble even top-level opponents, however, and on a court as slow as those at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, del Potro will have to be at his best to hit through him. Patience will be key for the Argentine, try to strike too early, and he could end up hitting a costly number of unforced errors.
As fine a career as David Ferrer has had, it's hard to see him winning this match. Where once he would doubtless have relished the opportunity to contend with del Potro’s formidable power, he is no longer as resilient as he once was. He won’t make it easy for the world #8, he showed in Acapulco he is no pushover, but ultimately del Potro’s weight of shot should tell in his favour. The Argentine looks a real contender in Indian Wells and he should still be in the draw come the next round.
Who do you think will reach the round of 16? Let us know in the comments below!