Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro will hope that his body holds up as he returns to the French Open for just the second time since 2012. But though injuries have been the bane of the big man’s career, he has had his fair share of success, both past and recent. He is a former semifinalist in Paris, reaching the last four in 2009. This year, he won his first Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells. But the wily veteran Nicolas Mahut will be hoping to spring some surprises on the fifth seed. Who will come out on top?
Mahut and del Potro have met twice in their careers. The first meeting came over a decade ago at the US Open in the first round where del Potro triumphed in straight sets 6-0 6-4 6-2. It was the Argentine who won again in their most recent meeting, in 2014 in Brisbane, although he had to recover from dropping the first set to do so. He managed to, winning 1-6 6-3 6-4 in the second round, and went on to win the title, defeating Bernard Tomic in the final.
Last time out
After an excellent eighteen match winning run that took him to titles in Acapulco and Indian was snapped by John Isner in the Miami semifinals, del Potro took a well-earned break, returning to Tour action on the clay courts in Madrid. But his return did not go as he might have hoped, as Dusan Lajovic recovered from a set down to stun him in the third round. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ was then forced to retire from his third round match with David Goffin in Rome due to a groin strain.
Mahut, now north of 36-years-of-age, seems to be concentrating principally on his doubles career, which has taken him to considerable successes, including two Slam titles and the top of the rankings tree. But he is still active in singles, despite falling outside the top 100. Ahead of the French Open he played both singles and doubles in Bordeaux, although he may be disappointed to have lost first round in both, in the singles to Roland Garros wildcard Elliot Benchetrit who took on Monfils in first round action.
How do they match up?
Central to Juan Martin del Potro’s considerable success in the sport has always been his wrecking ball of a forehand. Even after two wrist surgeries severely curtailed the power he could generate from his backhand, his forehand took him back into the top ten and since his return he has defeated Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Federer, impressive achievements indeed. He is also hitting his backhand with renewed confidence and serving well. But as his Rome retirement showed, his body remains fragile.
Mahut plays tennis of another era as much as it is from the modern game. The Frenchman possesses a fine serve and excellent hands at the net, and it would be no surprise to see him approach the net often, particularly against the del Potro backhand, with the Argentine not as effective at passing players as he once was from the side. Mahut’s groundstrokes can let him down against the best players, and the slow court surface will not likely count in his favour.
The groin strain he picked up in Rome may well prevent del Potro from putting together a real run in Paris. But he should still have enough to get past Mahut, who is unlikely to make this match into a physical battle, despite his well-earned status as a marathon man. The del Potro forehand will surely have too much power for Mahut to cope with, and Mahut will find it more difficult to attack the net than he would on a hard or grass court. Del Potro to advance.
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