In a clash between the big men, former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro takes on Canadian #1 Milos Raonic, with a place in the Indian Wells final on the line. The Argentine world #8 came into the season’s first Masters 1000 off the back of winning his first ATP 500 title in five years in Acapulco. It’s also been five years since he last made a Master’s final. Raonic made the final in Indian Wells in 2016, but had an injury wracked season last year and is looking to rebuild. Who will make the title match?
Raonic and del Potro have both had their fair share of injuries, and thus it is perhaps of little surprise that despite both being well-established in their careers, they have only met three times. The first two meetings they had came in 2013. In the first Raonic, backed by his home crowd in Canada, came through in straight sets at the Rogers Cup. Del Potro had his revenge later in the year in the Tokyo final, defeating Raonic 7-6 7-5. Raonic then won their most recent encounter in the Delray Beach semis last year 6-5 7-6.
Path to the semifinals
The ‘Tower of Tandil’, seeded sixth in the California desert, received a first round bye and began against Alex De Minaur. The 17-year-old had a thrilling start to the season, making it to the final in Brisbane but was brushed aside 6-1 6-2 by del Potro. He then defeated long-time former top ten rival David Ferrer in straight sets 6-4 7-6, though the tenacious Spaniard made him work hard for the win. Del Potro then recovered from a slow start to come back from a set and a break down to defeat his compatriot Leonardo Mayer.
That set up a quarterfinal clash with Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany. Kohlschreiber had not won back-to-back matches all season coming into Indian Wells, but had found a rich vein of form in the desert. And he began impressively against del Potro, taming the big man’s power with feel. He broke early, survived a break back to break again and win the opener. But as the match wore on del Potro’s power began to tell and despite more fine play from Kohlschreiber, del Potro turned it around to win.
Raonic, seeded 32nd, also received a first round bye. That saw him open his Indian Wells campaign against Felix Auger-Aliassime, his teenaged compatriot. Auger-Aliassime had upset Pospisil in the previous round but couldn’t repeat the trick against Raonic who won 6-4 6-4. He then defeated Joao Sousa, Zverev’s conqueror, in three to reach the round of 16. His opponent there, Marco Baghdatis, was forced to retire sending Raonic into the last eight. He defeated Sam Querrey, the American #2, in three sets 7-6 2-6 6-3 to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal since Bercy in 2016.
How do they match up?
Both men are dependent on their power and attacking tennis to win matches. For del Potro the major weapon in the arsenal is the forehand. It is easily one of the biggest in the sport and it allows the Argentinian to dictate to opponents. Part of the reason it is such a formidable weapon is that, despite the pace del Potro hits the ball with from that wing, he imparts seemingly little topspin. That sends the ball skidding through the court, making it even harder for his opponents to retrieve the ball.
Raonic, though equipped with a fine forehand, lacks the quality off the ground that del Potro possesses. However, he does have one of the best serves on Tour. His first serve is devastatingly powerful and usually places him amongst the leaders in the ace race at the end of a season. His second serve is also very effective. The Canadian is comfortable hitting both the slice serve out wide and heavy kickers, the latter of which is particularly useful in Indian Wells due to the court surface and altitude.
The battle between the two player’s backhands will be an interesting one. Raonic’s backhand is much the weaker of his two groundstrokes and when put under pressure the world #38 can be forced into errors from that wing. Del Potro was once able to strike his two-hander with almost as much venom as his forehand, but is more restricted after undergoing two surgeries on his left wrist. However, it is a weakness he defends better than Raonic does with his backhand.
Raonic has had to battle through to this semifinal and has put in his most impressive performance in over a year, for which he deserves credit. But del Potro is on a roll now, with nine straight wins to his name, and it’s hard to see how Raonic will live with del Potro’s wrecking ball of a forehand. The world #8’s progress so far hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but he has had enough to get it done when in counts. He will do so again in a three set win.
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