Djokovic Holds His Nerve To Beat del Potro In Acapulco
ATP World Tour stars produce high-level display on Cancha Central
Novak Djokovic kept his nerve to outlast Juan Martin del Potro on Wednesday night for a place in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel quarter-finals. Competing in front of a capacity crowd, top seed Djokovic fought back from a break deficit in the deciding set to wear down his Argentinean opponent 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 38 minutes. He is now 12-4 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
"Every match that I’ve played against Delpo in the past couple of years has been very close, really enjoyable to play and great for the crowd to watch,” said World No. 2 Djokovic, who is playing at an ATP World Tour event in Latin America for the first time this week. “I am very happy and proud to win this match, even though I was close to losing when he was serving at 4-3 up in the third set. I just tried to get as many returns back in play as possible, which isn’t when he has a big serve and a massive forehand. It was very, very close with one or two points deciding the winner. I cannot believe that the stadium was full at 1 a.m., so I want to thank all the people who came to watch us and support tennis.
“I think I played well, and only in some situations maybe I didn’t play tactically correct. I didn’t make a lot of mistakes and I was getting a lot of extreme balls back. When del Potro hits his forehand and serve as hard as he does, no one can really be quick enough. I just tried to anticipate and in the important moments, in the final set, I got some important balls back."
Del Potro recorded one of his four victories against Djokovic in the 2016 Rio Olympics first round, when he was ranked No. 141 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and on the comeback trail from wrist surgery. The popular Argentinean went on to lose to Great Britain's Andy Murray in the gold medal match.
Djokovic will now challenge Australian Nick Kyrgios for the first time in the Acapulco last eight on Thursday night. “I am going to think about Kyrgios tomorrow,” said Djokovic. “It’s been a long match tonight and I will try to recover and get into shape.” Kyrgios, who won three ATP World Tour titles last year, beat American Donald Young 6-2, 6-4 earlier on day three.
Service breaks were exchanged midway through the first set, before del Potro landed the first blow at 4-4 with Djokovic trying to force the issue and over-hit a forehand volley long. Del Potro sealed the set when Djokovic shanked a forehand wide.
In the fourth game of the second set, a superb sliced lob on the stretch from del Potro landed inside the baseline and Djokovic was unable to flick the ‘tweener over the net. It would have brought up three break points opportunities. Instead, del Potro reeled off four straight points to hold for 2-2. Djokovic, though, finally landed the break for 4-2 when del Potro flattened an off-forehand wide. With the Serbian standing on the cusp of 5-2, with a 40-0 lead on serve, del Potro unleashed two monster forehand return winners, prior to a pair of loose Djokovic errors brought up a break point.
While Djokovic survived the scare he was not so fortunate when serving for the set at 5-3. Del Potro applied relentless pressure off his forehand wing to break on his second chance with a brilliant wrong-footing pass down the line. Spurred into action, however, Djokovic put the foot down, bringing up two set points the following game on the Argentine’s serve. He levelled the match when del Potro fired long on a forehand down the line.
The intensity level ratcheted up in the decider when Djokovic fell to 0/40 at 3-3, with del Potro matching Djokovic’s firepower with some fine touch. Del Potro clinched the break by firing a forehand winner down the line on his third break point opportunity as Djokovic approached the net. But Djokovic instantly made del Potro feel uncomfortable on serve and, despite the Argentine’s fine athleticism at the net, Djokovic broke back to 30 when del Potro struck a forehand just wide.
“It wasn’t a great time to lose my serve, especially against a big server like Delpo,” admitted Djokovic. “But in the next game I tried to focus and put the ball in play to give myself a chance to get into the rally. I think I did well and made him move.”
The pressure now weighed heavily on del Potro’s shoulders. Although del Potro saved one match point at 4-5, 30/40, Djokovic was soon able to control the baseline rallies and pulled the trigger on a forehand winner down the line for a second match point. Djokovic sealed his ninth match win of 2017 with a smash from the baseline that del Potro could not control. The pair embraced at the net at the end of a titanic and memorable encounter.
"I think the crowd enjoyed it very much," said 28-year-old del Potro. "It has been another battle between the two of us and this time it ended up in Nole's favour. I had my chances during the third set, but he stepped up his level and didn’t make any mistakes in the decisive moments. He deserved the win.
"There are always positives to take. The season just started for me and I have to keep working hard. I really hope that one day my rivals will play to the shot that now is my weakness [backhand] and I can get back to the way I want to play." Last week, del Potro reached the semi-finals of the Delray Beach Open (l. to Raonic).