A blockbuster quarter-final will take place at Wimbledon on Wednesday as world No. 1 Rafael Nadal takes on Juan Martin del Potro.
Although Del Potro fell tamely to Nadal in the Roland Garros semi-finals five weeks ago, grass is a whole different ball game.
Del Potro overcame Gilles Simon in a two-day match that was suspended for darkness on Monday with the Argentine leading by two-sets-to-one, and it was resumed on Tuesday. The fifth-seeded Del Potro was pushed to his limits by Simon but ultimately came through 7-6(1), 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5).
Del Potro will face off with Nadal in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, in what will be their first grass-court showdown since 2011, which, incidentally, was the last time the Spaniard had made it this far at Wimbledon.
Nadal is 2-0 head-to-head against Del Potro on grass, 10-5 overall.
But such numbers won’t matter much on Wednesday, with Nadal knowing all too well how dangerous his opponent can be, especially with a monster serve that has given Del Potro 69 aces so far this tournament, compared to Nadal’s 22.
“He always has a chance,” Simon told reporters of Del Potro’s threat level for Nadal.
“He already beat him. He was able to beat all the top guys. That’s why also many people like to watch him play, because you feel something can happen. He has a lot of strengths in his game.”
Simon is spot on. The reason people will always look forward to a match between Del Potro and a member of the ‘Big Four’ is that you never know who will win, which is rarely the case for these players against the majority of the field.
Del Potro’s best Wimbledon performance came in 2013 when he reached the semi-finals, and he also won Olympic bronze at the All England Club in 2012.
This fortnight, he was won 81 per cent of his first-serve points, has been broken eight times and has been broken just once, by Simon in the fourth round.
The 29-year-old returned to the top-four in the world rankings last month, for the first time since 2014, and has made the quarter-finals in three of his last four majors. He was stopped by Nadal in the 2017 US Open semis and the French Open semis, with the Mallorcan going on to win both tournaments. Del Potro will attempt to leave with a different outcome this time around.
“It will be a different match that we played in Paris few weeks ago. I will try to hold my service games most of the time. If I want to beat him, I have to come to the net very often and play hard with my forehands, with my backhands, and try to take all the chances,” said Del Potro on Tuesday.
Of course playing for three consecutive days won’t help Del Potro’s cause, especially that his fourth round against Simon lasted 4h 14 min.
Nadal enters the match carrying a 16-match winning streak and hasn’t dropped a set yet this tournament.
He’s looking to add an 18th Grand Slam title to his trophy cabinet, and close in on Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20.
After making five finals in a row at Wimbledon between 2006 and 2011, the Spaniard has struggled to get back to that position since. His knee troubles hindered his performances on the grass, and he also wasn’t able to find solutions against big-hitters who could blow him off the court.
But he’s back in the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time in seven years and could hit 50 match-wins at the All England Club if he lifts the trophy on Sunday.
“Everybody admires him as a competitor,” says Del Potro of Nadal. “He’s a fighter. He is always trying to be positive and thinking in the next ball. Doesn’t matter if he misses or not. It’s too tough to see a guy in front of the net when they are always positive during the game.”