Monday Topspin: Who’s Number Four?

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!

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4 Comments

Filed under Challengers, Daily recaps, Miami

4 responses to “Monday Topspin: Who’s Number Four?

  1. Nice piece. Slight mistake in the opening though.

    Andy Murray will return to number 4 next week as far as I know.

    Gotta love the ranking computer

  2. What I saw of Delpo’s win over Soderling yesterday and what I read today leave me unconvinced that Delpo has recovered the fitness to defend better against top 10 players other than Soderling or Berdych (the two worst defenders of the group). He may have better control with his reach than Soderling, but the Swede was not playing smart points – not surprising, given how off his game has been: “I’m not playing well. I’m not feeling well. I’m not moving well. I’m not serving well,” said Soderling. In the first set, when he appeared to have Delpo stretched wide to the right, Robin continued to hit wide to the right rather than going down-the-line for the open court, and at least making Delpo expend energy moving side-to-side.
    For his part, Delpo is much more confident than he was even 2 weeks ago, and commented after the match about how well he had served. Through IW his 1st serve serve had been inconsistent at best, and often deserted him for stretches that contributed to his losing sets in early rounds. This may have had the benefit of giving him extra match play to improve his conditioning and focus under pressure.
    In any event, Delpo’s come-back is progressing faster than it might have had he been unrealistic about how great a struggle he’d face returning to the top. For this, I give him more credit than for any tournament result. He’ll need mental strength to hold on to his confidence through the clay season, which will test his quickness and fitness (including his wrist) far more than he’s been tested so far. If he can survive into the 2nd week of Roland-Garros, he should be ready for anything thereafter (even grass: if Berdych could reach a Wimbledon final beating Federer on the way, why not Delpo, who has a better serve and groundies?).
    For the rest of this week, Delpo has an easier draw to the semis than either Federer or Nadal. I’m glad to see him returning to the top, but how well he does against Joker in the semis will be another reality test. My prediction, for what a hunch is worth, is that Joker will beat Delpo along the lines 4 and 3, barely a competitive contest if measured by the score. Joker will know better, and give Delpo the same courtesy Federer would after a relatively easy win, saying something like, “I am very happy with this win. I needed to serve and play really well today to beat Juan Carlos, who is such a strong competitor. He is playing tougher every day, so if maybe I don’t win one point here or there, the result can be different.”
    Rick

  3. Tom Welsh

    If we’re going to be picky about details, note that Del Potro is Juan Martin not Juan Carlos. But I’m glad to meet another old-timer who got used to uttering the latter name in the glory days of Ferrero!

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