No Australian Open for del Potro

After a resurgent season including a US Open final, a French Open semi and a title at Indian Wells, star-crossed Argentine Juan Martin del Potro fractured his kneecap in what appeared at first to be an innocuous fall in Shanghai last October.

Turned to be not so innocuous.

The world No. 5 will miss the entire Australian summer season, including the first Grand Slam tournament of 2019.

“Recovery is going great and I will tell you later where I will be making my comeback. Unfortunately it won’t happen in Australia, I’ll miss you Australian Open, but I’m happy with my progress,” del Potro wrote on Twitter.

Positive attitude

After being pretty down in the dumps when the injury first occurred, del Potro appears determined to keep a positive mindset as he comes back from yet another injury.

The random nature of this one – and the fact that his 2018 season had been so encouraging as he was back near the top of the rankings where he belongs – must have made that difficult.

Del Potro went 47-13 on the season, with two titles. He reached a career-high ranking of No. 3 last summer.

Patella fracture for Juan Martin del Potro

Del Potro had not planned any official tournaments before the main event. He did announce a month ago he would play some matches at the Kooyong Classic exhibition the week before the Australian Open.

But that was never confirmed 100 per cent. He was one of only two top players (Borna Coric being the other) who had no plans to play a tournament (exhibition or other) before Melbourne.

Kooyong only pre-event for del Potro

Points to defend Down Under

Del Potro reached the final in Auckland a year ago, and the third round at the Australian Open.

He won’t be able to defend the 240 points he earned with those two efforts.

The Argentine lost in straight sets in Melbourne to another battered veteran, Tomas Berdych. Berdych returned to action Sunday in Doha after a six-month absence because of back woes.

But the absence isn’t likely to hurt his ranking too much. The only player with a realistic chance to pass him in the rankings would be No. 6 Kevin Anderson.

Anderson lost a five-setter in the first round in 2018 to Kyle Edmund. So he can only gain ground even though he has a Pune final to defend, and is currently 600 points behind del Potro.

Del Potro hasn’t officially withdrawn from the Australian Open yet. But next in line to replace him in the main draw would be Pedro Sousa of Portugal.

Paul wins first Challenger title

American Jack Sock would then be two spots out of making the singles main draw on his own ranking. That would mean the USTA could give the Australian Open reciprocal wild card to someone else.

Reilly Opelka and Bradley Klahn, who finished second and third in the wild-card playoff in November, already are in on their own rankings.

Next in line would be Tommy Paul, who otherwise would be unseeded in the qualifying. So that would be a huge break for him.

Canadian rising star Félix Auger-Aliassime now is four out of the main draw.

The domino effect will move young Brit Jay Clarke into the qualifying.

Del Potro out, Nishikori into London

You didn’t have to be inside the right knee of Juan Martin del Potro to figure out that the 30-year-old likely wasn’t going to be good to go for the ATP Tour Finals.

A fracture of the patella – even a little teeny one – is not an insignificant thing. And with the reports that del Potro was doing rehab and exercises in the pool – but not on court – there wasn’t nearly enough time.

So even if qualifying for the year-end finals for the first time in five years was a big deal, the bigger picture for the Argentine is to ensure he’s ready to go for the start of the 2019 season.

And so, del Potro officially withdrew Saturday.

Here’s his official quote from the ATP Tour website:

“It’s frustrating for me not to be able to compete in London. It’s a very special tournament and I’ve tried everything possible to get my knee better. The rehabilitation is making good progress, but I need more time. Of course, it’s disappointing for me right now, but I had a very good season overall.”

The final qualifier for the eight-man event will be Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

Just in time for the festivities

The week between the Paris Masters and the Tour Finals is full of promotions, photo ops, the iconic group selfie, draw ceremonies and all the rest.

The worst thing would have been for Nishikori not to have been in any of this marketing material, just because of a late withdrawal.

Back in 2013, with the week between the two events eliminated, Spaniard David Ferrer found himself in the Paris final – and an invisible ghost in what was a group of seven for the promotions.

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With no leadup week in 2013, poor David Ferrer ended up left out of all the pre-Tour Finals festivities.

(As a complete aside, look at the complete turnover in just five years. Tsonga, 33, is making his way back from knee surgery and currently ranked No. 256. Janko Tipsarevic, though not officially retired, has had major injury issues in recent years. Andy Murray, No. 264, made it back after hip surgery but shut it down in late September. Del Potro, in his first qualification since that year, is out with the knee injury. And at 33, Tomas Berdych’s back issues have had him out since before Wimbledon and a big question mark going forward).

(And then, there are … Federer and Djokovic).

Nadal another question mark

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Nadal had to pull out of the Paris Masters with an abdominal issue. Will he be healthy enough to go in London?

The next question to be answered will be whether or not Rafael Nadal will be part of the elite eight.

A finalist twice, Nadal pulled out in 2017 after losing his first round-robin match to David Goffin of Belgium because of his always-troublesome right knee.

In 2016, he never made it to London because of a wrist injury. In 2014 he had to have an appendectomy.

The knee issue is back; Nadal hadn’t played since the US Open when he arrived in Paris a week ago. But then, before his first match, he pulled out because of some pain in his abdominals that he felt most acutely on the serve.

Next in if Nadal can’t go would be John Isner.

The final eight

Assuming Nadal will give it a try, here are the final eight for this year’s event.

(Participation numbers in brackets; for the top 3, their qualifications for the Tennis Masters Cup earlier in their careers are included).

1. Novak Djokovic (11th)
2. Rafael Nadal (9th)
3. Roger Federer (16th)
4. Alexander Zverev (2nd)
5. Kevin Anderson (1st)
6. Marin Cilic (4th)
7. Dominic Thiem (3rd)
8. Kei Nishikori (4th)

If Isner ends up making it, it would be his first career participation at age 33.

Patella fracture for Juan Martin del Potro

After undergoing further tests Saturday on the right knee he banged during a fall on court in Shanghai Thursday, Juan Martin del Potro got some bad news.

The doctors determined that the 30-year-old Argentine fractured the patella.

“It’s a very difficult moment. I feel very sad. It’s a very tough blow that leaves me powerless emotionally. It’s very difficult for me to go back to being in rehab; I wasn’t expecting it,” del Potro said, in a statement via his PR manager Jorge Viale.

The knee is in a brace. And del Potro will follow doctors’ orders to rest, with further evaluation and decisions about a timeline for recovery to occur in the next few days.

When it happened, it seemed fairly benign – if anything involving a 6-foot-6, 215-pound behemoth falling on a rock-hard tennis court can be considered benign.

Even del Potro said it seemed like nothing, at first. But then he realized he couldn’t push off his right leg.

patella
Del Potro landed on the knee when he slipped. But it didn’t appear to be all that serious at first, even if he retired from the match against Borna Coric because he felt the knee was “unstable”. Turns out it was.

In the previous match that evening between Roger Federer and Roberto Bautista Agut that evening, Bautista Agut had a similar sort of fall.

At first, it looked even worse.

patella
Bautista-Agut slipped while changing directions to try to track down a ball. But his right knee landed sideways, while his right elbow took a bit of a hit.

But the Spaniard’s weight was going backwards. And his knee managed to land sideways while his right elbow bore the brunt of the fall.

Bautista Agut shook it off, and seemed fine afterwards – other than being upset at coming as close as he ever has to beating Federer.

Such a game of inches.

Great season ends too early

Without playing doctor on the internet, and not knowing the extent of the fracture to his kneecap, this is no small thing.

patellaIt’s an injury that not only will end his season, but also may compromise his off-season and thus the beginning of 2019.

And what a shame – for anyone, but especially for a player who has spent most of the last four years rehabbing from multiple surgeries to both wrists.

Del Potro had returned to splendid form this year as he won Indian Wells and reached the French Open semifinals. He also reached the US Open final. And after the Rogers Cup, he reached his best-ever ranking at No. 3.

There was much more to come, including Basel – where he is a two-time champion – the Paris Masters indoors, and a return to the ATP Tour Finals in London for the first time in five years.

Djokovic, del Potro survive to reach US Open final

NEW YORK – After five matches under Grand Slam stress and through some of the toughest playing conditions in recent memory, four were left on Friday at the US Open.

Given what had come before, it probably wasn’t a shock that the best tennis in the men’s event this year may have already been played.

But maybe not. 

There’s one more to go.

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro will meet in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And you can only hope that it will be a compelling, close contest after the semifinals were anything but.

The first to fall was the eldest of the quartet, 32-year-old Rafael Nadal.

The defending champion retired after del Potro won the first two sets, as his right knee again prevented him from showing his best.

He first felt it at 2-2 in the first set.

Tendonitis, Chapter 15

survive

“The pain on the knee is always very similar … The problem is this time was something little bit more aggressive because was in one movement. Was not something progressive,” he said.

Nadal had it flare up in the early rounds, even having the knee wrapped during his third-round match. But it responded to treatment – until it didn’t.

It’s still the same patellar tendinitis. And Nadal, who is scheduled to play the Davis Cup semifinals next weekend, said it’s not a matter of three weeks – or six months. It’s about judging how much pain he’s willing to play with, as the tendonitis eventually responds to treatment.

Let’s just say, he knows the drill by now.

Del Potro is into his first US Open final since he won it all the way back in 2009. It is the biggest gap between Slam finals in the Open era. And the shortened match was a blessing in the sense that he won’t be going into it having had to survive a marathon in the semis.

“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam finals in here, which is my favorite tournament. So it would be special to me. Would be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment,” del Potro said.

“It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyways.”

Tired Nishikori no match

Djokovic dropped a set in each of his first two rounds and was one of the players who struggled with the unbreathable conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. But he has been on a major roll since then.

survive

He defeated No. 26 Richard Gasquet, unseeded Joao Sousa and John Millman and No. 21 Nishikori in straight sets through his next four rounds.

The matchup with Nishikori has always been a favorable one for him. Whatever Nishikori does well, Djokovic does more of, and better.

The Serb now has won their last 14 completed meetings, including a four-setter in the quarterfinals on his way to the Wimbledon title in July.

“I knew that coming into the match if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, so to say, the game style, that I’ll have my chance kind of to break through and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors. That’s what happened,” said Djokovic, who called the match “really, really good” from his side. 

“I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. And I was returning well. I was putting constantly pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always.”

survive

It didn’t help Nishikori that he appeared to tweak his leg or knee early on, on a fairly harmless looking trip to the net. Nishikori attributed that misstep to cumulative fatigue. The 28-year-old also had a draining five-set win over Marin Cilic in the previous round to recover from.

But when Djokovic is playing as well as he has been in New York since those early minor bumps, there isn’t much anyone can do to derail him. The 31-year-old was literally firing on every single cylinder he had on Friday night.

“He was playing very solid everything: serve, return, groundstrokes. He was playing aggressive. Yeah, I didn’t have (a lot of) energy to stay with him. He was hitting, you know, side to side. Yeah, wasn’t easy to stay with him tonight,” Nishikori said. 

“I think I was just tired from last couple matches. I was try to give 100 per cent, but he was playing very solid. Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I might have chance to play little better. But he was, you know, playing great tennis today. Yeah, very credit to him.”

Djokovic in rare US Open territory

With the win, Djokovic jumps into a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as he prepares to play his eighth US Open men’s singles final. Eight is tops in the open era; Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer have made seven finals.

survive

He also officially qualified for the ATP Tour Finals. Federer also qualified; the two join Nadal.

Djokovic stood at No. 76 in the race to London before Indian Wells, No. 25 before the French Open. If he wins on Sunday, he’ll be No. 2 behind Nadal. if he loses, he’ll be No. 3, just 65 points behind del Potro.

“Probably seeing the results, consistency of the results I’ve had here, probably has been my most successful Grand Slam. Of course, I won the Australian Open six times, never lost finals there. But I think I’ve played more than 10 semifinals here. It’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments to play because of the conditions and because of the fact that I’ve played so well in each year that I keep on coming back,” Djokovic said.

“I know that I feel very comfortable here. It just allows me to feel more comfortable playing, starting the tournament and going through it. Yeah, I mean, I think I have two finals won and five losses. But, you know, hopefully I can get one better in few days.”

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

WIMBLEDON – It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without a good, old-fashioned debate about court assignments and scheduling and who’s being snubbed and who’s being given preferential treatment.

And so, as we arrive at the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and the men’s quarterfinals, we see three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.

With that, we also see seven-time champion Roger Federer “relegated” to No. 1 Court for the first time in the tournament.

Actually, for the first time in three  years.

(Relegated is such a relative term here, as it is at Roland Garros where Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen are considered virtual co-equals. Still, it’s a status thing that seems to mean a lot to some people).

Second trip to Centre Court for Djokovic

assignment
Djokovic has definitely been hard done by at times with the scheduling. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The way people have been whinging, you’d think Djokovic had been turned away at the door to the celebrated Wimbledon Centre Court for failing to bring a jacket and tie.

That said, it’s fairly evident over the last few years that despite his sterling resumé, he’s rarely gotten the top-two treatment accorded here to Federer and, less defendably, to Nadal.

The Serb was on Centre Court on Saturday for his third-round match against Brit Kyle Edmund, after being relegated to No. 2 Court for his second round.

Until Manic Monday, there was never a choice to be made between Federer and Djokovic in terms of courts assignments. In opposite sections of the draw, they were playing on different days.

The choice, then, has been between Djokovic and Nadal – currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world, even if he is the No. 2 seed here because of the weighted grass-court seedings.

Djokovic is currently ranked No. 21 and seeded No. 12.

Nadal on Centre every match

Nadal has won out each time there was a choice to be made between the two. The Spaniard’s match against Juan Martin del Potro will be the fifth straight time he has been on Centre Court.

And the quarterfinals are the last opportunity to play anywhere else but Centre Court.

Nadal warms up on Court 15 Wednesday morning, ahead of his match later in the day against Juan Martin del Potro. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Djokovic said, after he squeezed his Monday victory over Khachanov in under the wire, that he had heard his last-on match was likely to be cancelled had the prior match between Kevin Anderson and Gaël Monfils had gone to a fifth set.

Meanwhile, a mixed doubles match involving Brit Jamie Murray and his partner Victoria Azarenka was played on Centre Court, with the roof closed and the lights switched to finish the third set.

It could all have been even worse. The absence of Andy Murray, who is pretty much an automatic (perhaps even more than Federer) to get a Centre Court slot made life a little easier this year for a lot of people.

Mid-match relocation rare

Djokovic dealt with that last year as well. The tournament wouldn’t move his Monday match, delayed by rain under the Centre Court roof to finish it.

(Tournaments rarely relocate a match that’s already in progress to another court. But it does happen. Notably in 2014 here, Genie Bouchard’s first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova on Court 12 was moved to Centre Court, under the roof, on a day where just about everything was wiped out by rain.

There was a specific scenario involved there. The winner was to play Brit Johanna Konta. And they needed a Centre Court slot for her. And that was going to be difficult to manage had the second-round match been delayed a day, because of the other high-profile matches that needed to be scheduled. So yes, it’s pretty much all about television).

Last year’s stubbornness about not moving Djokovic’s match meant he had to finish up Tuesday. And on Wednesday, he had to retire in his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych. He didn’t play the rest of the season because of his elbow injury.

Luckily, that repeat scenario was avoided. Because Djokovic would have been right to raise a huge stink if it did.

assignment
The three kings of tennis practiced side by side by side on Sunday at Aorangi Park. But for the actual match scheduling, Djokovic is often the odd man out.

Federer to No. 1 Court, TV follows

So the seven-time champion Federer therefore led things off on No. 1 Court Wednesday for the first time in the tournament, facing No. 8 seed Anderson of South Africa.

Generally, the BBC’s main station is the spot for Centre Court action, while BBC2 has No. 1 Court.

Except … as Wednesday’s coverage began, Djokovic and Nishikori were nowhere to be seen on BBC1. The BBC lunchtime news was all over its coverage of U.S. president Donald Trump and other world leaders in Brussels, and didn’t switch back to the tennis until about 1:50 p.m., when they showed the two players walking onto court (50 minutes earlier)

After that, Federer’s match was switched to BBC1, while Nishikori and Djokovic was being shown on BBC2. 

It was all a very delicate dance.

The last time Federer played on No. 1 Court was against Gilles Simon of France the same round  – the quarterfinals – three years ago. Djokovic beat Federer in that 2015 final. 

Switching the matchups

Nadal vs. del Potro is the “fan favorite” match of the day, with both players having huge followings. So Federer was moved, risking the wrath of the all-powerful Centre Court debenture holders.

It also led to some scrambling as Federer fans who had tickets for Centre Court assuming their favorite would be there, trying to swap them out for No. 1 Court.

Meanwhile, the generally accepted scheduling plan that the two players who meet in the next round should play at approximately the same time wherever possible, was turned upside down to make this change.

The winner of Federer-Anderson will play the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and John Isner. But they play one after the other on Court 1.

Same scenario on Centre Court, where the winner of Djokovic-Nishikori will play the winner of Nadal-del Potro. And yet, they follow each other.

In this configuration, Federer or Anderson, and Djokovic or Nishikori will both benefit from some extra down time before Friday’s semifinals.  

The later the better for the Americas

The later time slots are more coveted by television in North and South America – which applies to Raonic, Isner and del Potro.

1 p.m. is 8 a.m. in New York and Toronto, 9 a.m. in Buenos Aires and 5 a.m. in Los Angeles. So the later the better, as far as the television rights holders in those countries. But the same is somewhat true in Europe, where the early evening match can spill over into prime-time blocks.

So there are no correct answers to this puzzle. Even though it’s typically not about the “best tennis matchup” or about fairness to all players.

But in the end, everyone will play and win, somewhere. Someone’s nose will always be put out of joint. and Isner and Raonic are probably happy just to still be playing on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon.

They’d probably play on the Centre Court roof, if they were asked to.

Last-minute decision for Juan Martin del Potro (video)

PARIS – Even though he’s an Argentine, a land where clay is king, it’s no secret the clay-court season is the toughest part of the year for Juan Martin del Potro.

The 29-year-old suffered a Grade 1 tear in his left adductor 10 days ago during his match against David Goffin in Rome.

And he’s unsure if he’ll have recovered enough to go best-of-five sets, on clay, at the French Open next week.

He told the media at Roland Garros Saturday that he’s taking it day by day.

It’s the last clay-court tournament – and it’s a Grand Slam – so he’s going to do his best.

Del Potro plays wild card Nicolas Mahut of France, possibly as late as Tuesday. 

Lucky top half of the draw

The bottom half of the men’s draw plays Sunday and Monday; the top half (which includes del Potro) plays Monday and Tuesday. No doubt he’d have made a request to try to get an extra day of recovery in and get a Tuesday start. And, as the No. 5 seed, they’d certainly at least listen.

Del Potro said sometimes it feels better; other times, not so much. 

He said the doctors he visited in Barcelona a few days ago said it would take about eight days. 

“I am improving, I am doing everything possible, if the recovery continues as it has so far, it is positive,” he said.

“I’m making this effort because it’s Roland Garros. That’s why I stayed in Europe. …  I have experience in this kind of thing. It is hour-by-hour.”

Big March for del Potro

Del Potro had a crazy-successful run through the hard-court swing in March with a title in Acapulco, another title at Indian Wells, and a semifinal loss to eventual champion John Isner in Miami. He posted a 15-1 record, and gave himself some recovery time after that.

The Argentine didn’t start the clay-court swing until Madrid, where he lost a third-set tiebreak to Dusan Lajovic in his second match.

In Rome, he defeated young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas in his first match, then retired at 2-6, 5-4 in the match against Goffin as he felt the adductor.

Practice with Nishikori

Meanwhile, the Wrist Brothers practiced Thursday on Court 3 at Roland Garros.

Both del Potro and Kei Nishikori have been through the grinder with wrist problems. Nishikori missed nearly six months at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, although he didn’t have surgery.

Del Potro’s multiple surgeries – on both wrists – are well documented.

It was hard to tell what kind of shape del Potro was in, as he didn’t move all that much.

Nishikori stayed behind for extra homework.

On Saturday, del Potro practiced with Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

Federer vs. del Potro in Indian Wells final

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – With all the absences, with Novak Djokovic going out early, and with so many high seeds gone too soon, the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles final turned out all right after all.

No. 1 seed Roger Federer and No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro, two extremely popular players both on form this season, will vie for the trophy Sunday.

After that, it’s possible one of both of them will finally shave.

The two fuzzy finalists took different paths to the final match Saturday as Federer grinded out a win, and del Potro cruised on a way the conditions made things challenging.

Federer looked like a man who pressed the snooze button too many times until halfway through his match against 21-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia.

Most often, television and the tournaments themselves demand the world No. 1 get an spotlight match in the evening session. At worst, he tends to play late afternoon. So the 11 a.m. start may have felt as foreign to him as a middle-of-the-night wakeup call for a commuter flight.

The ATP Tour said that Federer had had just two 11 a.m. starts prior to this in his career: in 2006 here in the desert, and in 2004 at the tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland.

“Pasta at 9:15. It was yummy,” Federer quipped during is post-match interview for ESPN.

Tough conditions, tough match

Potro
  Raonic never found a groove against del Potro Saturday. And his lack of effectiveness on serve was a bit of a shocker.

The No. 1 looked out of sorts, perhaps a little stiff and sore, too (the cold, windy weather is not a friend to any 36-year-old professional athlete). And before he knew it he was down a set an a break to Coric, the 49th-ranked Croat who pulled off a third-set tiebreak win over No. 7 seed Kevin Anderson in the previous round.

But Federer woke up. He adjusted his targets to cut down the errors he was making in the wind. And Coric woke up, too – only in a different way. Faced with the prospect of upsetting the world No. 1, he flinched just enough, strayed from a successful game plan just enough, to allow Federer to pull out a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Better lucky than good – but both help

Federer admitted he had some luck. He also didn’t decide, when he was in big trouble, that perhaps it just wasn’t going to be his day and ride out the inevitable.

“I think when you are confident and maybe also experienced and you have that combination, there’s no real need to panic, you know, because you can assess the situation quite easily,” Federer said. “You’re understanding that the opponent is playing better. It’s breezy. It’s hard to play offense. And when I was playing offense he was defending well. In the neutral rally balls, maybe I was missing a bit too many times.

“I think Borna played a great match. He was very steady. I can see why he caused a lot of problems to a lot of players, and he’s only going to improve from here,” Federer added. “Look, I should have lost the match. I was down twice a break in the third, I was down a break in the second. So, yeah, no doubt about it, this was definitely the toughest match, maybe the toughest match (this season).”

Despite appearances – at least early on – Federer said he was fine, physically. He said he was just caught off-guard by Coric’s game, the way he absorbed power so well and how he neutralized his offensive game combined with what Federer termed a recent “recalibration” of his game style to become a little more offensive-minded.

“He won because he’s Roger Federer”

Coric thought he had it, at some moments.

The Croat said the quick start was a combination of himself playing well, and Federer not playing well.

“But he stayed in the match and he pushed me. He basically, you know, he said to me, ‘Okay, you need to win the match. I’m not going to give the match to you.’ Many other players, especially because I was playing very good and I was not missing, many other players would just give the match away, you know, and he didn’t do it,” Coric said.

 He won also because he’s Roger Federer, and because he plays great. … He played, I think, tactically very, very good, very smart in those very important points, you know, which I was a little bit surprised.”

Undefeated in 2018

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Federer is now 17-0 to start the season – the best start of his career. Del Potro is not far behind him at 16-3. And despite some back woes earlier in the tournament, the Argentine looked in perfect form Saturday and had little trouble with Raonic.

The Canadian’s lack of match play this season – and the Argentine’s abundance of it – contributed to del Potro having more confidence in being aggressive in the challenging conditions. Raonic never found his rhythm.

“I was sort of trying to find a groove. Especially when you sort of haven’t played for a while, you already are overthinking a lot of things. And then, with the wind, you’re not sure. You don’t have just that calm and ease about going through things and figuring things out on the fly,” said Raonic, whose ranking will rise from No. 38 to No. 25 with his week in the desert.

“It was surprising to see him serving not too hard, and I broke his serve very quick in both sets. That give me the control of the match,” del Potro said. ” I play a smart game, because the conditions were tough to play, but I did everything good. And I served well. I took all my chances. It was an easier match than what I expect before.”

25th meeting between Federer and del Potro

PotroFederer is 18-6 against del Potro during their careers.

But despite that rather lopsided head-to-head, they have had some fascinating tussles. Del Potro has defeated Federer at some of the tournaments that mean the most to him. He won back-to-back three-setters in the finals of the Basel event (Federer’s hometown tournament) in 2012 and 2013. And he has beaten Federer twice at the US Open, including last year.

“We both know what the other is trying to do, and we try to stop the other person from doing it. But it’s hard when me or him is in full flight. It’s basically an arm wrestle the whole time, and I think we enjoy that,” Federer said.

Raonic, the No. 32 seed, makes Indian Wells semis

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The last time Milos Raonic played the BNP Paribas Open in 2016, he lost to Novak Djokovic in the final.

For five straight years, the 27-year-old Canadian went one round better each year – from the third round through to the ultimate one.

After missing it a year ago, and dealing with a laundry list of physical woes, and starting the 2018 season at less than peak fitness and searching for a coach, perhaps Raonic was looking for his oasis.

And maybe he has found it.

Raonic defeated No. 18 seed Sam Querrey 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 Friday to advance to the semifinals, where he will face Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.

“A lot of things were very good. … I have to be disciplined with myself to put a good level consistently throughout, from start to end. I was a little bit up and down too much, and if I don’t get lucky like I did at the end of that first set, it’s a very different storyline,” Raonic said. “So it’s important, I’m happy about it, but still got a long ways to go, a lot of things to keep working on and doing better.”

Calm, quiet, easy Indian Wells

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Del Potro, who has been dealing with a sore back, also needed three sets (against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany) to get through.

“It’s a little bit quieter here. It’s easier to be around the tennis. You don’t have to fight through traffic to get here. You get here with ease. So I think that gives me a personal calm.,” Raonic said. ” I think the conditions help. Obviously this year it’s quite a bit slower than it has been in the past, but the ball still moves through the air even though the court slows it down a bit. But it’s always bounced high.

“So I think there have been a lot of things that have contributed to me feeling comfortable here,” he added.

Things have unfolded in just the right way – including a walkover in the fourth round over an ill Marcos Baghdatis – and Raonic has taken full advantage of it.

He squeezed into the last seeded spot, No. 32, only late in the game. So he got here early enough to have plenty of practice on the rather unique courts. 

And in his first match, he met much-younger countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime, who had just won the first ATP Tour-level match of his career and who remains, understandably, a little in awe of a player he has looked up to.

The opener against young countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime was a tricky one, but Raonic played solidly. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Pumped up against the kid

Raonic remember seeing “little Félix” around the national training centre in Montreal when he first arrived there from Toronto. He’d have been 16 or 17; Auger-Aliassime around seven.

The notion of losing in that situation definitely pushed a few buttons.

“Yeah, the pressure of it, it sort of was on the end of things. I think that also, at the end of that match there was some kind of sense of relief, as well, to get through that. Especially with not just everybody else, but myself, questioning … how things were going to come along,” he said.

If there was relief, there also perhaps was a spark that Raonic might not have had in his three earlier tournaments, where he went out at the first hurdle twice, and only won one match in all.

After that victory over Auger-Aliassime, in which he played very well, he was in the tournament in a way he might not quite have been in the others.

“Second match also I was a little bit borderline there, and I put it together today, as well. So there has been a lot of moments of relief that have occurred throughout this week so far,” Raonic said.

Aggressive play, simplified tennis

seedThe Canadian has been ultra-aggressive on the ultra-slow courts, something that might seem counter-intuitive but in reality makes perfect sense for him.

Raonic’s serve – especially the kick serve that bounces up higher here than almost anywhere – remains as effective as it is anywhere. Never a player who will outlast a relentless baseliner even at his very best, the Canadian’s current fitness level and lack of match play would strike a line through that tactic anyway.

Goran Ivanisevic, the coach who is on trial with Raonic through this event and the next one in Miami, is telling him to keep it simple.

“The one thing he has done is he’s made the objectives very clear with me and really tried to simplify things, just so I can stick to the things I know how to do well and not try to overcomplicate my tennis at this moment,” Raonic said. “When you make a decision, go for it. Don’t question it. Don’t think about the ‘what ifs’. What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? Just stick (to it).”

No doubt Ivanisevic, the former coach of Marin Cilic, will get far more credit than he warrants for Raonic’s good week. Punditry is like that. It’s more likely that he’s in the right place, right when Raonic is healthy enough to truly start his season.

The Canadian probably doesn’t need a former Wimbledon champion to tell him to keep it simple. Any tennis fan watching him probably could offer that same advice. But there’s no doubt it’s what he needs to hear at the moment. And apply it.

“At the end of the day, my tennis should not be complicated. First chance I have, go forward, try to serve well, and rip the ball when you have the chance,” he said.

Raonic 2, del Potro 1

Raonic and del Potro split two matches within a two-month period back in 2013. Back then, del Potro had fully come back from his first wrist surgery and was in the top 10. Raonic was on his way up and just outside it.

A lot has happened in the interim – two big men battling their bodies.

They didn’t play again until a year ago in Delray Beach. Raonic won that one.

“Well, he has everything to be in the top again. His game is so good. His serves are very strong. He’s very good player,” del Potro said of Raonic. “So he just need couple of weeks to improve his ranking and be what he deserve to be.”

As it is, Raonic will make a nice leap from his current No. 38. Asked earlier in the week what emotions it summoned when he saw that number next to his name, Raonic said “anger”.

He’ll be at least No. 25, no matter what happens. If he can beat del Potro, he would move up three more spots. If he can win the tournament – making that one extra round to complete his Indian Wells staircase, he would be No. 14 and well on his way back to the top 10.

One win for del Potro, and he’s in

If Juan Martin del Potro defeats John Isner Friday in the Paris Masters quarterfinals, he’ll be the eighth and final qualifier for the ATP Tour finals in London.

Had someone told him this would happen just two months ago, when he stood at No 47 in the race, no doubt he would have laughed.

But somehow, the body has held up through a long stretch of tournaments, since then,  in which he has gone 20-4.

A title in Stockholm, a final in Basel and semifinals at the US Open and the Masters 1000 in Shanghai have brought him to this point.

At the beginning of the Paris Masters, there were seven players in the running for the final two spots.

By Thursday, despite David Goffin’s desultory defeat at the hands of wild card Julien Benneteau, he was almost in.

There was only one way the Belgian, who missed the entire grass-court swing after damaging his ankle on court during his third-round match at the French Open, could fail to become the first from his country to make the Tour Finals.

Pouille done

If France’s Lucas Pouille reached the final, and defeated del Potro there, those two would have made London. And Goffin would have been out.

But Pouille was beaten by Jack Sock later on Thursday. That eliminated him, and qualified Goffin.

Now, only one question remains.

Isner and del Potro have met eight times, going all the way back to 2008. Del Potro has won six of the eight – including the last two. He’s 4-2 against Isner in tiebreaks.

If del Potro beats Isner, he not only eliminates Isner, he also eliminates Pablo Carreño Busta (the leader in the clubhouse at this point, after losing in the second round) and Jack Sock.

Sock is not dead yet

Because, yes – Sock remains alive in the race to London.

His name doesn’t come up much; he’s definitely the sleeper, technically standing in 21st place in the race as of Thursday night.

If Isner beats del Potro, he’ll knock out the Argentine. But he still would have to win the whole tournament (including a potential victory over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals) to eliminate Carreño Busta.

Sock also would have to win the tournament. In the bottom of the draw, he has Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals, and the winner between Marin Cilic and Julien Benneteau in a potential semifinal.

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Paris finals shootout for the final London spot? All-American style.

Obviously del Potro qualifying would be the most popular outcome in many quarters.

But if that doesn’t happen … how about a one-match, throw-em-down showdown in the Paris Masters final between the two Americans, with the winner getting a trip to London?

More wrist issues for delPo after freak fall

Here’s one sight no one who loves tennis wants to see.

Juan Martin del Potro lying on the court, grimacing in pain, grabbing his wrist. 

Either wrist.

A veteran of four wrist surgeries and two frustrating, long comebacks, the Argentine found himself in that position in the third set of his quarterfinal in Shanghai against Viktor Troicki Friday.

He got up and resumed the match after about a five-minute pause – and won it. But he’s uncertain for Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Roger Federer.

It was an innocuous-looking moment as del Potro backed up to hit a forehand – a move he makes 100 times in a match – and stumbled as his left ankle rolled slightly.

He fell – gently, it seemed, considering his height and size.

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Del Potro used his left hand to break his fall, instinctively. But he injured his surgically repaired left wrist in the process. (TennisTV.com)

But he landed on his left hand and wrist. And he immediately grabbed it. He indicated later to the physio that it was the inside of the wrist that had taken the brunt.

“I don’t know how is my wrist after I fell down. I feel something wrong in that moment. But I continued to play, just playing slices, just to try to finish the match. But now it’s time to see what the MRI and what the doctor says. I’m a little worried, but I know (how) to deal with all these things,” del Potro said immediately after the 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.  “I’ve been through in the past. I will see what the doctor says … Of course, I would like to play, I would like to be 100 per cent. But he will see in the moment what happens.”

Later, del Potro’s media-relations rep Jorge Viale said that del Potro left the hospital with the wrist in a splint. On the positive side, Viale indicated that anything more serious than a bruise had been ruled out. 

Del Potro will decide Saturday morning whether he can make the date with Federer, scheduled for 8 p.m., Shanghai time.

Three surgeries on the left wrist

The first surgery del Potro underwent came on March, 2010, on the right wrist. That was a tough-enough comeback. But he had three more between March, 2014 and June 2015. 

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This time, they were all on the left wrist, which was the one he injured Friday. The comeback featured del Potro hitting mostly slice backhands. But still, he had been able to win a lot of matches. And as things progressed, his two-handed backhand was slowly getting closer to what it had been before all the surgeries.

The 29-year-old has been rounding into form at this late stage of the season. In fact, with his effort in Shanghai thus far, del Potro will return to the top 20 in the ATP Tour rankings for the first time in almost exactly three years when the new rankings come out next Monday.

(All screenshots from TennisTV)