I mentioned in the lead-up to Wimbledon that Juan Martín del Potro could prove a genuine threat to some of the big names in the men’s draw at this year’s event. He certainly didn’t let me down last night with a big upset win over number 4 seed Stan Wawrinka.
This is Del Potro’s first Grand Slam appearance in 2 ½ years after undergoing 3 separate surgeries on his left wrist. Despite being noticeably underdone physically, he has shown he can still match it with the world’s best on the world’s most famous court.
Whilst Del Potro is right-handed, he relies heavily on his left wrist to generate power on his two-handed backhand. Since his return to the tour in February, he has been hitting very conservatively on his backhand wing. Instead of regularly using his powerful drive backhand, Del Potro has developed a new slice backhand which is proving very effective on grass. He used this to great effect last night ensuring the ball was coming through low and fast to Wawrinka, successfully negating his powerful game.
Despite a hiccup early in the first set, Del Potro’s serve was effective all day with 70% of his first serves going into play. He also unleashed his trademark forehand when he had the opportunity, which in my opinion is the best forehand in the game. Del Potro also knuckled down during the rallies and kept his unforced error count comparatively low (25 to Wawrinka’s 48). Despite the limitations on his backhand wing and his lack of competitive match fitness over 5 sets, Del Potro played an extremely intelligent match to take Wawrinka’s seeded spot in the draw.
Del Potro will have to back-up this performance tonight when he plays Frenchman Lucas Pouille. Del Potro’s win over Wawrinka in 4 sets was his longest match since the 2014 Australian Open so recovery will be key. Pouille, who has a current ranking of 30, will not be an easy opponent but Del Potro will be keen to make light work of him given the tight scheduling due to numerous rain delays. If Poullie can push the match out to 5 sets, it could get tough for Del Potro given it’s his first major since January 2014. However I suspect that the win over Wawrinka will give him a massive confidence boost and I think he will be able to account for Pouille in 3 or 4 sets.
Once he has the confidence in his body to put more power into his backhand and with an increase in match fitness, I would expect him to challenge for a top 10 ranking once again in the near future. Del Potro has said that even he is unsure whether he can return to his devastating best from a few years ago, but his win last night signals a very ominous start to hopefully a successful return.