2013 semifinalist and world #4 Juan Martin del Potro will look to continue his quest for a first Wimbledon title when he takes on Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. After having claimed his first Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells and making the semifinals in Paris, del Potro is having arguably the best season of his career since 2009 and a deep run at Wimbledon looks very possible. But Lopez is a wily grass court veteran and a dangerous opponent. Who will come out on top?
Lopez and del Potro have had a storied rivalry as befits two veterans who have competed at the top of the game for much of the last decade. Longer in Lopez’s case who is competing at his 66th Slam in a row, a record. He and del Potro have met seven times in a head-to-head that the Argentine leads narrowly 4-3. However, this will be their first meeting since del Potro returned from wrist surgery, with their most recent match a 6-4 1-6 6-4 win for the Argentine in Cincinnati in 2013.
Path to the second round
After reaching the French Open semifinals for the second time in his career, nine years after he first reached the last four in Paris, del Potro was scheduled to play at Queen’s. But he withdrew in order to safeguard his fitness, which has proven frail over the course of his career. That saw him begin his grass court season in the first round at the All England Club against Peter Gojowyczk. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ cut a frustrated figure throughout, but won fairly comfortably 6-3 6-4 6-3 nonetheless.
Lopez’s French Open ended in the first round at the hands of Sergiy Stahkovsky, but he reached the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and at Queen’s, where he was defending champion, in the lead up to Wimbledon. His Championships began against another Argentine, Federico Delbonis. But Delbonis does not have the grass court pedigree of del Potro and proved no match for the guile and finesse of Lopez who won through 6-3 6-4 6-2.
How do they match up?
There are few, if any, players more naturally powerful than the 6’6” del Potro, who remains the tallest ever Grand Slam champion. After two wrist surgeries that power no longer flows so freely through his backhand side although he is striking his two-hander with increased power. And his mighty forehand remains undimmed. When given time on that wing he can hit through even the greatest defences in the game and has done so, with victories over Nadal, Djokovic and Murray on his resume.
Lopez doesn’t have del Potro’s weight of shot, although his serve and forehand are a potent combination. But his game is almost perfectly suited to grass court tennis with his reliance on an excellent slice backhand and terrific hands at the net. The Spaniard’s reactions are not quite what they were at the peak of his powers and the power behind his serve and groundstrokes have also faded somewhat. But he still has the quality to test anyone on a grass court.
Lopez was able to make short work of Delbonis, but he will find his second Argentinian opponent of the tournament a rather different proposition. For although grass may not be his favourite surface, del Potro has the power to succeed on a grass court, which favour aggressive tennis. Backed by that wrecking ball of a forehand del Potro will have hopes of going deep, possibly all the way, at Wimbledon, and expect him to account for Lopez after a four set battle.