Seeking a return to the BNP Paribas Open final for the first time in five years, No. 6 seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro is into the Round of 16 thanks to a 6-4, 7-6(3) win over 29th seed David Ferrer of Spain.
The two foes came into the match at an even 6-6 in career head-to-heads, but Del Potro had won their last four outings, including a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 fourth-round decision only days ago en route to the Acapulco title.
A visibly frustrated Del Potro failed to convert any of his first 10 break-point opportunities against the 35-year-old Spaniard, but finally made good on his 11th, moving ahead 4-3 in the opening set. Three games later he would serve out the stanza with a resounding ace on his seventh set point.
“I couldn’t break at the beginning of the match,” said Del Potro. “I lost many opportunities to start the match even better, and I got frustrated after those points. But the chances came again in the end of the set, and finally I took one.”
Ferrer, who has posted seven Top-10 year-end rankings but came into the tournament at No. 33, did his best to exploit his opponent’s weakness, his backhand. But Delpo, who underwent right wrist surgery in 2010, and three left wrist surgeries in 2014 and 2015, stood his ground, closing out the match in a second-set breaker in one hour, 46 minutes.
Credit Del Potro’s ability to adapt his arsenal after all those wrist interventions. On Tuesday, the 29-year-old told BNPParibasOpen.com that, despite the pain, despite the work-in-progress backhand, he’s a better all-around player post-surgery.
“I think I’m a more complete player because I can hit slices, I come to the net more often than years ago and I can mix it up with my two-handed backhand, with dropshots, and my forehand is still working good,” he said. “But in terms of all my game, of course I would prefer to have again my old backhand, my old two-handed backhand. But this is the way that I play today.”
With Ferrer, Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic, Gael Monfils and John Isner all eliminated from his quarter of the draw, things are looking wide open for the 2009 US Open champion. World No. 1 Roger Federer and Del Potro are now the top two seeds remaining at the BNP Paribas Open. But he insists he’s not looking too far ahead.
“I’m not thinking about that. I just want to keep winning,” he said. “It’s good for me to feel this confidence when I get to the court and I play well, but I’m going step by step. I will play another Argentinian guy tomorrow, which is a special match for both. It’s not easy when you play against a friend.”
That friend is oft-Davis Cup teammate Leonardo Mayer, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel. They have met only once before, with Del Potro claiming a third round 6-3, 7-5, 7-6(9) decision at the US Open in 2012.
“I don’t think it will be an easy match with Leo,” Del Potro said. “We practice a lot together. We train at the same club in Buenos Aires. We grew up together. We won the Davis Cup together. And we have dinners together and we spend a lot of time together. It will be a special match for both of us. I know if he has a good day, he’s a very dangerous guy. He plays solid from the baseline, plays very flat and his serves are good enough to beat me or to beat anyone on tour.”
Joining Del Potro in the Round of 16 are: 32nd seed Milos Raonic of Canada (def. Portugal’s Joao Sousa 7-5, 4-6, 6-2), Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis (def. lucky loser Dudi Sela 7-6(5), 6-4), 18th-seeded American Sam Querrey (def. qualifier Yuki Bhambri 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4), and 28th seed Feliciano Lopez (def. No. 8 seed Jack Sock 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-4).