Two men separated by just a single spot in the ATP rankings face off with the prize for the winner the Mexican Open title. Kevin Anderson is the higher ranked man at world #8 and after a slow start to the season that saw him upset in the first round of the Australian Open the South African has found some form. He won a fourth career title at the inaugural New York Open and will be looking to go one better than he did in Acapulco in 2014. Del Potro also started slow with personal problems affecting him but will be desperate to win a first ATP 500 title since 2013. Who will come out on top?
Anderson and del Potro, both veterans of the Tour, have met six times over the course of their careers. It is not a head-to-head that makes good reading for the South African. He has lost all six of those matches, winning just two sets in the process. Their first match came in 2011 at Delray Beach in the quarterfinals with del Potro winning in straight sets. He backed that up with a win in the Vienna semifinals later that year, triumphing 6-4 3-6 6-4.
The ‘Tower of Tandil’ won a third match in 2011, this time in the second round in Valencia, again in straight sets. Del Potro then defeated Anderson in 2012 in Basel in the quarterfinals in arguably their closest match yet, coming back from dropping the opening set to win 3-6 7-6 6-2, going on to win the title. The Argentine beat him en route to another title in Washington in 2013. In their most recent meeting, last year in Delray Beach in the first round, del Potro picked up win number six 6-4 6-4.
Path to the final
Anderson began his Acapulco campaign with a win against Radu Albot. The Romanian gave it his best but was unable to live with the world #8’s power and Anderson was comfortable, winning 6-3 6-4. He was again comfortable against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino who he defeated by the same score. Hyeon Chung, recently an Australian Open semifinalist, made Anderson work harder but was also unable to win a set, falling 6-7 4-6. Anderson dropped his first set of the tournament in the semifinals against Jared Donaldson but won in three 6-3 4-6 6-3.
Del Potro began with a crushing victory over Mischa Zverev, losing just three games against the out of form net-rusher. The Argentine won a hard-fought battle against a former top ten rival in the shape of David Ferrer, dropping the second set but winning in three. In a rematch of their thriller at the US Open last year, del Potro again came out on top against Dominic Thiem, this time winning in straight sets 6-2 7-6. Arguably his best performance of the week came in the semifinals against Alexander Zverev who he defeated 6-4 6-2.
How do they match up?
Both men are powerful hitters most comfortable at the baseline. Anderson, who stands 6’8 tall, is an excellent server, but it would be a mistake to reduce his game to that of just a powerful serve. Amongst the sport’s big men, he is arguably the best mover by some distance. He also possesses far more solid groundstrokes than others such as John Isner or Ivo Karlovic. His forehand is his major weapon aside from the serve, but his backhand is a dependable shot with which he is capable of doing damage.
The biggest strength in del Potro’s game is obviously his forehand. He possesses the most power of that wing in the sport and also hits the ball with less spin than most players on Tour. How he is able to do that is a mystery that perhaps even he does not understand but it is fearsomely effective none-the-less. His backhand is no longer the offensive weapon it was before the double-wrist surgery he underwent on his left arm, but he is hitting it with increased confidence.
That decline in the power he is able to call upon from his backhand side has led to del Potro improving his slice backhand. The sliced backhand is not a shot that the taller players typically like to face as it forces them to get low to the ball and how Anderson is able to handle it will be crucial. Alexander Zverev struggled to do anything with del Potro’s slices and it cost him. Anderson will have to avoid falling into the same trap.
Both men have played some excellent tennis this week and there is little to split them in terms of quality at this point in their careers. But what could just tip in favour of del Potro is the power he is able to summon from his forehand. As fine a player as Anderson is he lacks a comparable ‘x-factor’ and that is why del Potro will win a tight match in three sets, likely featuring at least one tiebreak.
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