Top seeded Grigor Dimitrov looks to make almost certain his place at the ATP World Tour Finals with what would be his fourth title of the season in Stockholm. He has history at the tournament, indeed, it was the first he won at Tour level back in 2013. Standing in his way is the ‘Tower of Tandil’ Juan Martin del Potro. The big Argentine is defending champion in Stockholm and has enjoyed a superb end to the season, with runs to the semifinal in New York and Shanghai. He too has a chance at London. But which man will lay claim to the Stockholm title?
Dimitrov and del Potro have met seven times so far in their careers. The Argentine dominated the early part of their rivalry, winning their first five meetings. That included two victories in 2013 in Rotterdam and at Bercy, and then two straight sets wins in 2016 in Stuttgart and in Stockholm. In 2017, however, though del Potro won their first match in Rome in three sets, Dimitrov has had the better of it so far. He finally picked up his first win over del Potro on his way to the title in Cincinnati as the Argentine struggled with heat exhaustion. Dimitrov backed that up with a tight win in Beijing this month, coming through 7-6 7-5.
Path to the finals
Dimitrov enjoyed a bye in the first round, opening his campaign against former Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz. Once ranked as high as world #14 Janowicz’s indifferent form over the past few seasons has seen him slip down to 141st in the world. But he remains a dangerous opponent on his day. Dimitrov, however, managed to squeak past him in straight sets, coming through a 7-5 7-6 winner. He backed that win up with an excellent performance in the quarterfinals against German serve-volley specialist Mischa Zverev. Zverev was picked off time and time again by a clinical Dimitrov. He did put up a flurry of late resistance, denying the Bulgarian on his first five match points, on the sixth Dimitrov came through 6-3 6-4.
Dimitrov next met Italy’s Fabio Fognini in the semifinal. Fognini began well, going for his forehand whenever possible and forced two early break points. The Bulgarian, however, saw them off and broke himself shortly after as unforced errors began to creep into Fognini’s game. Dimitrov held firm to see out the set. But when Fognini came out firing in the second set he was able to convert his good play into a break of the Dimitrov serve. The match looked to be heading for a decider, but some excellent Dimitrov play restored parity and the Bulgarian was comfortable in the second set tiebreaker. A fine week so far has seen him reach the final without yet having dropped a set.
Juan Martin del Potro, seeded fourth, also enjoyed a first round bye. That saw him begin against Germany’s Jan Lennard Struff. Struff is a big hitter, but even his power could not match the hammer blows of del Potro. The Argentine came through 6-2 7-6. He backed that up with another straight sets win in the quarterfinals against Antalya champion Japan’s Yuichi Sugita. In fact, the score was exactly the same as in the round of 16 as del Potro won 6-2 7-6, with both second set tiebreaks being decided 8-6. He dropped his first set of the week against Fernando Verdasco in their semifinal, this time suffering a reverse in the tiebreak. However, del Potro fought back to level the match taking the second 6-4, and despite a tight third set he was dominant in the deciding tiebreak, winning it 7-1.
How do they match up?
Dimitrov is one of the most naturally gifted players currently on the Tour. His all-court game means he is capable of hurting opponents from all over the court. His first serve has also improved this year, and he has been hitting it superbly all week. The same can be said of his forehand, which he has turned into a real weapon again this year. He is able to dominate points with it, and not unlike Federer, often camps in his backhand corner to dictate play with the forehand. But good though his forehand is, it cannot compare to the wrecking ball that del Potro possesses. No player in the history of the game can have hit the shot harder. The Argentine also hits a surprisingly flat ball, making it a fairly unique shot.
His backhand has been held up by some to be a weakness, but whilst del Potro has lost much of the power on that wing due to a wrist injury, it has improved gradually since his return and is far from easy to exploit. A key battle will likely be how well Dimitrov is able to cope with del Potro’s cross-court forehand. Dimitrov’s backhand is his weakest shot, but he has improved his slice this year and uses it to defend well. If he can neutralise the del Potro crosscourt forehand and force the Argentinian to go up the line regularly, he may well force more unforced errors than del Potro can afford. On the other hand, if his backhand cannot stand up to del Potro’s power it is hard to see how he can win the match.
Dimitrov has been playing superbly all week and will continue this rich vein of form against del Potro. He has won their last two matches, including recently in Beijing on a similar court surface. Expect him, therefore, to pick up his fourth title of the year and all but guarantee his qualification to London in straight sets.
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