In an all Argentine clash one of the form players on the Tour, Juan Martin del Potro, takes on his compatriot Leonardo Mayer, with a place in the quarterfinals of the Indian Wells Masters on the line. Del Potro recently won his first ATP 500 tournament in five years in Acapulco and has looked formidable so far this week. Mayer has never before made it so far at a Masters 1000 event, but will be eager to break even more new ground. But who will come out on top?
Mayer and del Potro have met only once on Tour in their careers, a match that came six years ago at the US Open. It was won by del Potro in straight sets, though Mayer put in a good effort, pushing del Potro in a 3-6 5-7 6-7 defeat. They had also met twice before that early in their careers at Futures events in Argentina in 2005. Del Potro won both of those clashes, the first by a score of 6-2 5-7 6-0 and the second 6-2 6-4.
Path to the fourth round
The ‘Tower of Tandil’ began his Indian Wells campaign in the second round after receiving a bye. There he faced young Australian Alex De Minaur who had such an exciting start to the season. But the 17-year-old had no answer to del Potro’s power as the world #8 brushed him aside for the loss of only three games in a 6-1 6-2 win. That set up a clash with a former top ten rival David Ferrer, who has found some form of his own recently.
The opening exchanges were hard-fought but del Potro made the first breakthrough midway through the set and Ferrer was unable to recover, losing it 6-3. He resisted valiantly in the second set, forcing a tiebreak. But del Potro was in control of it throughout and wrapped up the win in straight sets to reach the fourth round in Indian Wells for the first time since his impressive run to the final in 2013 (lost to Nadal).
Mayer, unseeded, began in the first round against Victor Estrella Burgos. He recovered from dropping the first set to win in three. He had then been drawn against Nishikori, but the Japanese was forced to withdraw, leaving him to face Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium. Mayer was comfortable in that match, winning it 6-4 6-1. He recorded the same score against Daniel, who had defeated Djokovic in the previous round, but was unable to back up that victory, leaving Mayer to advance to the last 16.
How do they match up?
Both men are powerful ball strikers. Del Potro’s forehand is rightly lauded as one of the best in the sport and he again demonstrated against Ferrer what a versatile shot it is. One of the reasons the del Potro forehand is so effective is that despite hitting it at least as hard as anyone on Tour, he seems to impart little topspin to the ball. That means the ball generally tends to skid through the court, making it even harder for his opponents to deal with.
His backhand has also been improving continuously since his return. Whilst there were fears upon his return in 2016 that the shot would be a perennial weakness for the 29-year-old, he is now hitting it with real confidence. He was able to strike a number of impressive winners off that wing, particularly down the line, in his previous match. His backhand slice has also benefitted, with the Argentine almost unable to hit through the ball early in his comeback, giving him greater variety.
Mayer is no stranger to the backhand down the line himself, though he hits it with one hand rather than two. Most of his success throughout his career has come on clay courts, and with his heavy topspin groundstrokes and lengthy takebacks it is not hard to see why. But on the slow, gritty hard courts of Indian Wells he should feel reasonably comfortable. Whether that will be enough to see him to victory against del Potro is another matter.
Del Potro is the heavy favourite to win this match. He has more power at his disposal than Mayer, is more comfortable on hard courts and is arguably the more versatile player. It is hard to see what Mayer can do to upset the higher ranked man’s rhythm, and if del Potro is allowed rhythm he can hit anyone off the court. And with the slow surface giving him time to wind up that big forehand he will be hard to stop indeed. Del Potro in straight sets.
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