In a rematch of their Miami Open semifinal earlier this season, fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina takes on the American John Isner for a place in the French Open quarterfinals. Neither man has played a great deal of tennis so far this clay court season, but both have looked impressive in Paris all the same. But will it be del Potro who makes the last eight at Roland Garros for the first time since 2012 or will Isner reach his first quarterfinal in Paris and just a second at any Slam.
Isner and del Potro have clashed ten times previously, although never on clay, in a head-to-head that the Argentine leads narrowly six matches to four. It was del Potro that won their first four matches, which all came on American soil, with del Potro notably defeating Isner in in three sets to win the Washington Open title in 2013. Isner had his revenge later that year in Cincinnati, defeating del Potro in the semifinals 6-7 7-6 6-3.
Injuries for del Potro saw a break in their rivalry until it was renewed at Queen’s Club in 2016, with Isner winning in straight sets 7-6 6-2. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ then scored back-to-back victories in Stockholm late in the 2016 season and then in 2017 at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. But Isner has won their last two matches, ending del Potro’s hopes of London qualification in Bercy last year before snapping his 18-match winning streak in the Miami Open semifinals this year, with Isner going on to win the final.
Path to the fourth round
After retiring from the Italian Open there were doubts about del Potro’s readiness for the French Open, which only mounted when he dropped the first set to Nicolas Mahut in their first round match. But del Potro swiftly turned that match around, defeating the veteran Frenchman 1-6 6-1 6-2 6-4. He backed that up with a 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory against Julien Benneteau, who was playing his last French Open. He then reached the fourth round courtesy of a 7-5 6-4 6-1 win over 31st seed Albert Ramos Vinolas.
Isner began his Roland Garros campaign with a straight sets 6-3 7-6 7-6 win over his compatriot Noah Rubin, who was a junior champion at Wimbledon but has struggled to make an impact in the senior game. The American #1 backed that victory up by defeating clay court specialist Horacio Zeballos in four sets, 6-7 7-6 7-6 6-2. He won through another tight encounter when he took on Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the third round, defeating him 7-6 6-4 7-6.
How do they match up?
It would be no surprise to see this contest dominated by serving. Isner is yet to be broken so far in Paris, which goes someway to illustrate the power he can summon when stepping to the line. Equally, however, he has broken his opponents just four times. In contrast, del Potro has won 16 games against his opponents serve, but has himself been broken five times. Considering none of Isner’s opponents so far have served as big as del Potro, breaks of serve in this match will be at even more of a premium.
This match is almost certain to feature at least one tiebreak, most likely more. Isner is a better clay courter than most of his compatriots, with the extra time afforded on the surface suiting him well. But del Potro has the power to rob him of that time from the back of the court, particularly with his devastatingly powerful forehand. That will get Isner moving more than he wants to and ultimately settle the match in del Potro’s favour. The fifth seed in four sets.