Del Potro d. Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4
It’s been a long, tough comeback road for Del Potro. After almost a full year off from injury and a year to get his game and ranking back up, 2012 was a bit of a let down. At times he looked like his old self, and was a permanent fixture in the top 10. At the same time, he never looked like upsetting the top 4 apple cart like he did in 2009.
Attempting to predict what we might be in for from the big Argentine this year would be difficult and partially pointless. A third round loss in Melbourne did little to stoke the fires of excitement. That being said, Rotterdam seemed the perfect tournament for Delpo to get his game up from a B to an A level.
The semifinal clash with Dimitrov was a fascinating one. Grigor has had a lovely start to the year, reaching the Brisbane final and is raising eyebrows with his aesthetically pleasing game (and let’s be honest, face). The way Dimitrov hits the ball is similar to Federer, and originally that is where I thought the comparisons should end. That isn’t entirely true. Grigor plays like Fed does on grass, but to the extreme, and not necessarily in a good way. He likes to slice the ball and keep it low, all while using top spin to get the ball deep and yes, keep it low. He likes to engage in the sort of cat and mouse rallies that Federer became famous for.
In the first set, I wasn’t sure if Delpo was doing enough to try to really drive the ball, but it became more obvious how great of a job Dimitrov was getting Delpo to play into his hand. While Del Potro was pushed into playing these longer, defensive rallies, he showed once again how underrated his defense is, particularly in the middle of the first set, when he was able to stick in points and eventually come up with the big shot to finish them off.
Dimitrov’s lack of killer instinct is really what seems to really kill him. Federer can be such a treat to watch when he pushes people around because you always know he will have a sly trick up his sleeve to win the point, a ridiculous drop shot, a nasty snap forehand, whatever. Grigor can do an excellent job tactically of setting points up, but then runs out of ideas (or ability?) to close out the points. He’s also far to prone to break down with silly errors, largely from the backhand wing (where he was needlessly broken off of early in the second set). His decision making has improved immensely, in my opinion, but it’s still lacking at the end of points.
That being said, the signs from Del Potro are incredibly positive. Like all big players, game and physically, he can have troubles with players who like to slice, keep the ball low, and move it around in unexpected ways (it’s why he is terrible on grass). He was able to play defense well, but not get too sucked into those patterns of play. He cranked it up on the first serve and the power when he got into trouble on serve, finding that next gear. You always love to see that from the top guys when playing these smaller tournaments; can they find the extra 5% juice in tricky times to out class there opponent.
Roll on, big man.