Here’s a shocking factoid: despite all his power, all his on-court success, Juan Martin del Potro has NEVER won an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. To put that into perspective, consider this: Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic each have a tour-best 30. Roger Federer has 27. The towering Argentine, through the semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback against 31st seed Philipp Kohlschreiber on Friday, is doing his darnedest to change that.
“It’s amazing to feel my body almost 100 percent, free of pain,” del Potro told an appreciative Stadium 1 crowd. “I thank God to be playing tennis again. I have nothing to lose after all my wrist surgeries. It’s like a second career for me. I was close to quitting tennis a few years ago, and now I’m here, Top 10 again. I’m so happy to be in the semifinals.”
Kohlschreiber must have ignored his career numbers against del Potro. He’d gone 2-6 against him after all, but came out firing in the opening set. With his opponent serving at 3-4, 15-40, the 34-year-old German absolutely pulverized a forehand return, and a game later had a one-set lead in hand.
Del Potro returned the favor with a service break in the eighth game of the second set to bring the match level. But his return game would often let him down in the third. He squandered four break points in the third game of the final set alone, and converted only 3-of-13 on the afternoon. But he would finally come through with his opponent serving at 2-all, 15-40, forcing Kohlschreiber into a costly forehand error.
“It wasn’t an easy match as everybody could see,” said del Potro. “But I was waiting for my chance to find a way into the game, and I did after the first set. Then my game improved a little bit, and I found my way with my returns. I played more aggressive with my two-handed backhand, and played more down-the-line. I think that was the big change in the match.”
Like Del Potro, Kohlschreiber is still seeking his first Masters 1000 title, having now fallen short in 83 career attempts.
His current win streak stretching back to Acapulco, Del Potro has now won nine consecutive matches. To win his 10th, and to return to the Indian Wells final for the first time since 2013, he’ll have to get past another oft-injured player, Canadian Milos Raonic, a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 winner over American Sam Querrey.
Not long after winning the 2009 US Open and rising to a career-high No. 4, del Potro suffered a series of setbacks, including four wrist surgeries between 2010 and 2015. Returning to the sport in earnest in 2016, he led Argentina to its first David Cup title, and won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Games.