In a clash between two veterans Juan Martin del Potro takes on Philipp Kohlschreiber with a place in the semifinals in Indian Wells the prize. The Argentine world #8 comes into the match in fine form having won his first ATP 500 tournament in five years last week in Acapulco. He also has fond memories of Indian Wells after a mesmerising run to the final in 2013. Kohlschreiber has never made a Masters 1000 semifinal, and this is his first quarterfinal in eight years, but he has found some form of late. Who will make the last four?
Kohlschreiber and del Potro have met eight times over the course of their careers, with the Argentine holding a fairly commanding 6-2 lead in the head-to-head. Their first match came over a decade ago in Cincinnati in the round of 32 with del Potro winning in three sets. He backed that up with another win in the quarterfinals in Stuttgart in 2008 before Kohlschreiber won by walkover in Vienna later that year. Del Potro then defeated Kohlschreiber in Indian Wells and Miami in 2011.
Kohlschreiber suffered his fifth consecutive defeat at the hands of del Potro in Melbourne in 2012 in the fourth round losing in straight sets 6-4 2-6 1-6. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ won his last match against Kohlschreiber in Shanghai during his run to the final, triumphing in a hard fought battle that went to a final set tiebreak 3-6 6-3 7-6. The German then recorded back-to-back wins in Munich and Stuttgart in 2016 though the Argentine was still far from his best after returning from wrist surgery.
Path to the quarterfinals
Del Potro, after receiving a first round bye, began his tournament against the talented young Australian Alex De Minaur, who earlier in the season made the final in Brisbane. But del Potro had far too much for the 17-year-old dismissing him 6-1 6-2. He then faced off against onetime top 10 rival David Ferrer, defeating the Spanish veteran 6-4 7-6 after a good battle. The world #8 was punished for a slow start by compatriot Leonardo Mayer, dropping the first set 6-3, but worked his way back into the match to win in three 3-6 7-6 6-3.
Kohlschreiber, seeded 31st, began his tournament in the second round against Tim Smyczek of the USA. The German made a poor start to the match, losing the first set 1-6, but turned the match around to win the next two sets six games to four and advance to the round of 32. There he faced second seed and recent Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic. Few would have backed the 34-year-old, who had not recorded back-to-back wins all year and hadn’t been beyond the fourth round in Indian Wells since 2011.
However, Kohlschreiber put in easily the best performance of his year so far to upset the Croatian. With his game firing on all cylinders, one break in each set was enough to decide the contest in his favour as he pulled off the 6-4 6-4 upset. He then defeated Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in straight sets to make his first ever Indian Wells quarterfinal. He did have to survive a late scare when the Frenchman broke when he served for the match, before he sealed the win in the tiebreak.
How do they match up?
For Kohlschreiber the key to this match will be minimising the amount of damage del Potro is able to inflict with his forehand. In short, if del Potro is allowed to bring his forehand into play too often then the Argentine will win the match. If Kohlschreiber can neutralise del Potro’s forehand then he has a good chance. That is not to say that the world #8 has no other weapons. He is hitting his backhand with increased confidence and is a fine server.
But it is his wrecking ball of a forehand that has fired him to his greatest successes, including his US Open win in 2009. Mayer was able to neutralise his countryman’s forehand by going deep and central with his groundstrokes to deny del Potro time and space. But it is a risky strategy, as anything too short or slow and del Potro has more than enough power to punish. Mayer also benefitted from some early misses from del Potro when he went for winners.
Kohlschreiber will also need to have a good serving day. Not the tallest on Tour at 5’10” the German isn’t blessed with a huge first delivery. Despite that his first serve is a reliable weapon, but his second can be exploited. Del Potro has been going for returns all week, particularly off the backhand side where his double-hander gives him good stability. With his impressive reach he is also a hard man to ace. If Kohlschreiber gives him too many second serves, it will become a long day for the world #37.
Though he wasn’t at his best against Mayer, del Potro had enough to come through that match and should have enough again against Kohlschreiber. The Argentine can hit his way out of trouble in a way that Kohlschreiber can’t and he has far more big match experience than his opponent. The court surface, which gives him time to wind up for his massive forehand, is also to his advantage. Expect del Potro to win through in straight sets.
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