the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Del Potro powers past Clement

Photo Titled Juan Martin Del Potro
Juan Martin Del Potro
The sleeveless shirt looks a little familiar. The Nike swoosh on the headband (a recurring theme on the showcourts of SW19 this year) rings a bell. The bloke wearing them is sitting in the top slot in the draw. Yes, but it’s still not Rafa.

When Rafael Nadal announced last week that his knees were not up to the challenge of two weeks of lunging and bending on a grass court, 15,000 Centre Court ticket holders groaned. In the referee’s office, someone sighed. “Ah, we’ll have to rejig the draw. So, the fifth seed will move up to the top spot, the 17th seed will take the fifth seed spot, the…” and somewhere in the locker room, Juan Martin Del Potro gulped. Fifth seed? Blimey, that’s me.

And so it was that Juan Martin Del Potro strode out on to No.1 Court as the new Rafa for 2009. And he made a fine fist of it, too, beating Arnaud Clement 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 in one hour and 37 minutes.

Apart from the lack of sleeves and the clothing sponsor, there are few similarities between Del Potro and last year’s champion. Where Nadal’s muscle shirt clung tight to his pecs and reveals nothing but muscles from shoulder to wrist, Del Potro’s reveals nothing but… well, arms, really. They go on forever. Same with his legs.

The fifth seed, world No. 5 and the best Argentine on the tour, is a collection of knees, elbows and limbs. Standing 6ft 6ins, he did not so much look down on the 5ft 8ins Clement as make the Frenchman look as if he were standing in a hole. And from the very first point, Clement realised he was in a really deep hole.

Grass may not be Del Potro’s forte – he has been here twice before and gone out in the second round on both occasions – but so high is his confidence at the moment that he believes he can give anyone a run for their money, no matter what surface they are playing on.

Until last year, the Argentine was just another one of those promising young men who flattered to deceive. Yes he could give the ball and almighty thump and, yes, with that height, his first serve was a potent weapon, but putting all the parts of his game together over the course of one or two weeks to win the title was a bit of a problem. And then, last summer, something clicked.

As Del Potro made his way from Wimbledon to the US Open, he picked up four consecutive tour titles. He added to that with the Auckland trophy at the start of this season and then set off on a run to the sharp end of most of the major tournaments this year– the semi-finals in Roland Garros and the Madrid and Miami Masters and the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and the Indian Wells and Rome Masters. All of that moved him up to fifth spot in the world rankings and knocking on the door of the elite club at the very top of the world order.

On grass, his game is still a bit of a work in progress and there are times when he looks like a giraffe lowering itself to drink as he tries to get down to a low bounce. No matter, his power, reach and ability to cover the court in a stride and half more than make up for that.

Whether his confidence can carry him beyond the second round this time remains to be seen. But as Rafa replacements go, Del Potro is doing a fine job so far.

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