In surely the pick of the men’s quarterfinals, world #1 and French and US Open champion Rafael Nadal takes on Indian Wells winner and fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro for a place in the Wimbledon semifinals. Nadal had failed to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals for six straight years, but after some fine tennis so far this year he finds himself back in the last eight. But the fearsome power of del Potro will present the great Spaniard with a real challenge. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and del Potro have clashed fifteen times in a head-to-head Nadal leads 10-5. They have met in some huge matches, including three Grand Slam semifinals, most recently a month ago at the French Open where Nadal won in straight sets 6-4 6-1 6-2 after seeing off some early del Potro pressure. They have also met once before at Wimbledon in 2011 when Nadal saw off the challenge of del Potro in a four-set thriller, eventually winning through 7-6 3-6 7-6 6-4 in the fourth round.
Path to the quarterfinals
Nadal began his Wimbledon campaign against Israel’s Dudi Sela, winning through 6-3 6-3 6-2 despite some fine moments from his opponent. His second round clash with Mikhail Kukushkin followed a similar pattern, with the Kazakh playing some good tennis but unable to sustain his level, with Nadal winning 6-4 6-3 6-4. He then dismissed the challenge of the teenager Alex De Minaur of Australia 6-1 6-2 6-4 before beating Jiri Vesely 6-3 6-4 6-4 to return to the quarterfinals.
Del Potro opened his tournament at the All England Club with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 6-3 win over Peter Gojowczyk, though he showed some unusual flashes of bad temper. He backed that up with a second round destruction of 2017 Queen’s champion Feliciano Lopez, beating the Spaniard 6-4 6-1 6-2. He then got the better of the talented Benoit Paire, advancing a 6-4 7-6 6-3 winner to set up a clash with Gilles Simon. It proved a close affair, but del Potro’s quality shone through as he won 7-6 7-6 5-7 7-6.
How do they match up?
Nadal and del Potro are both equipped with formidable arsenals, the centrepieces of which are surely their forehands. Nadal’s is a vicious, whipping beast, that has been rearing up high off Wimbledon courts that have hardened under the heat of the sun. But it will meet its match in del Potro’s hammer. The Argentine has surely the biggest forehand in the game, possibly the biggest of all-time, and he has used it to smash through even the very best defences throughout his career.
He is also the better server of the two. The fifth seed struck 27 aces against Simon and against Lopez dropped just one point behind his first serve. Nadal cannot match those sort of numbers with his own serve, with his haul of nine aces against Vesely his best tally of the tournament. But he does have a stronger backhand, with del Potro having lost some of the pace on his two-hander after two surgeries to his left wrist. He also moves better, but will have to avoid being too defensive.
Nadal may have run out a dominant victor at Roland Garros when the pair last met, but for much of the first set del Potro had him on the ropes. He couldn’t find the knockout blow, but only two men ever have when facing Nadal in Paris. The contest should be much closer at Wimbledon where the del Potro attack will have more joy than on the slow clay courts of the French Open. But, Nadal is the world #1 for a reason, and he will have just enough to shade del Potro in five.