2009 champion and third seed Juan Martin del Potro will continue his charge for a second US Open title when he takes on Denis Kudla of the USA. It has been the best season of del Potro’s career since that memorable triumph in 2009, and he will have high hopes of a repeat after some excellent results so far in 2018. But Kudla, sure to be backed by the home crowd, will have ambitions of his own. Who will come out on top?
Kudla and del Potro have met only once previously. That match came in 2016 in Delray Beach at the very beginning of del Potro’s comeback after nearly two years out with a serious left-wrist injury. Indeed, Kudla was the first opponent he faced. It was the American who made the better start in that match, but del Potro began to deploy his forehand with increasingly regularity and the match quickly turned in his favour as he advanced a 6-4 6-1 winner.
Path to the second round
The Argentine opened his campaign at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center against another American, the qualifier Donald Young. It has been a torrid year for Young, who has won just three matches and finds himself ranked 246th in the world. That is 243 places lower than del Potro and the gulf between them looked bigger still in the first set, which del Potro won at a canter. Young dug in thereafter, but the outcome never looked in doubt as del Potro advanced a 6-0 6-3 6-4 winner.
Kudla, who has enjoyed an impressive summer of hard court tennis so far, began his US Open against Matteo Berrettini of Italy. Berrettini, just 22, won his first-title in Gstaad last month, defeating some excellent players along the way, including Roberto Bautista Agut in the final. But he is far more comfortable on clay than he is on hard courts and that showed. Kudla took full advantage to win just his second match at the US Open 6-4 7-5 6-2.
How do they match up?
For Kudla, the key to this match will be to keep the ball away from the del Potro forehand as much as he can. It is a wrecking ball of a shot and if del Potro can bring it into play regularly than he will win this match. Also encouraging for him was the way he was hitting his backhand against Young. There had been rumours of another wrist injury, and he barely came over that shot in Los Cabos or Cincinnati. But against Young it served him well.
He also served fairly well, hitting six aces and just one double fault, but he did lose 46% of the points behind his second serve which will be a concern. Kudla, a good mover with a fine forehand, would do well to remain as aggressive as he can in this match. He often plays without much authority, building his way into points and trying to work opponents over. But he will need to force the issue against del Potro or the match will be taken away from him swiftly.
After an encouraging performance against Young, del Potro should go into this match full of confidence. He made a fast start and refused to give Young any real hope of making a comeback. Most importantly, it was a win free of any real drama, which is what players want and need at this stage of a Slam. Expect more of the same from del Potro against Kudla, who is simply not in his class. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ to advance in straight sets.