World number four: I can’t remember the last time Robin Soderling looked so helpless on court. He never earned a break point against Juan Martin del Potro and managed to win a paltry five games. His position in the top five is safe for now, but you have to wonder how much longer it will be before Delpo climbs over him.
The part of del Potro’s game that doesn’t get enough credit is his defense. Even on a bad day, Soderling unleashed some monster forehands, and the Argentine sent them right back–often to within a couple feet of the baseline. More so than any of the other “big” players active right now, Delpo can play like a counterpuncher for a lengthy rally.
As long as del Potro keeps winning, we’ll see some interesting matchups. In the fourth round tomorrow, he’ll face Mardy Fish, who scored a solid straight-set win yesterday over Richard Gasquet. In the quarters, he’s seeded to face David Ferrer. And if he makes it to the semifinals, his likely opponent is Novak Djokovic. Even with Federer-Nadal possible in the other semi, Djokovic-Delpo could be the event of the tournament.
Novak’s quarter: Of course, Djokovic has to win a few matches to get there, too. The way he’s playing, that sounds like a mere formality. Even the draw is cooperating. Last night, he won yet another set at love, beating James Blake 6-2 6-0.
Tomorrow, he’ll face Viktor Troicki, who won only one game against him at Indian Wells. After that, he gets the winner of John Isner vs. Kevin Anderson, a strong contender for the most boring match of the event. He may not bagel either of those big servers, but if Delpo reaches the semifinals, it’s a sure thing that Djokovic will be waiting.
Wild card: The biggest surprise still left in the bottom half of the draw is Marcel Granollers, author of three straight upsets. In the first round, the Spainard defeated Benjamin Becker; not a huge coup as measured by ATP rankings, but a match in which sportsbooks gave him less than a 38% chance of winning. He followed that up with a big three-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka, and yesterday he defeated Michael Llodra in his third-straight three-setter.
What makes Granollers’s success even more surprising is that he had only won two matches in his previous seven tournaments. (Some of that is due to unlucky draws, including Djokovic in the first round of the Australian and Roger Federer in the second round in Dubai.) He hadn’t won three straight matches since the indoor event in Valencia, where he reached the final as a lucky loser, finally falling to Ferrer.
His opponent tomorrow? Ferrer.
Top half: Today, we’ll determine the remaining eight spots in the round of 16. From where I’m sitting, the match of day pits Jo-Wilfried Tsonga against Alexandr Dolgopolov. Tsonga is beatable right now, having just slipped past Teymuraz Gabashvili in the second round and losing to Xavier Malisse last week. Dolgo will be able to absorb most of Tsonga’s power and force the Frenchman to play more consistently than he has in months. It’s no surprise that sportsbooks give Dolgo a 59% chance of winning.
As I mentioned yesterday, there’s a wide-open draw section where Andy Roddick and Jurgen Melzer used to be. Today we’ll find out who seizes the opportunity. Janko Tipsarevic will play Philipp Petzschner, and Pablo Cuevas will try to follow up on his big upset over Roddick in his match against Gilles Simon.
Three of today’s matches seem extremely lopsided: Rafael Nadal vs Feliciano Lopez, Federer vs Juan Monaco, and Tomas Berdych vs Carlos Berlocq. I’ve underestimated Berlocq before, so on that last one, I guess you never know.
Barletta: The clay-court challenger in Barletta, Italy this week has a strong draw, much like Le Gosier two weeks ago. Several players headed straight to Italy after losing in the first round in Miami, so the top seeds include Fabio Fognini and Pere Riba. Most notable in the draw is someone who wasn’t in Miami: Thomas Muster, who is apparently still on the comeback trail.
Muster was granted a wild card, and he’ll face countryman Martin Fischer in the first round. The former world #1 is 43 years old and won a single match in eight tournament appearances last year.
See you tomorrow!