Free Of Injuries, Del Potro’s Confidence Is Back And He’s Winning Big

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Juan Martín del Potro produced a statement win against Kei Nishikori on Sunday afternoon in Key Biscayne at the Miami Open presented by Itaú. The No. 5-seed from Argentina, who a week ago beat World No. 1 Roger Federer to win the BNP Paribas Open, won 11 of the last 13 games of his third-round match against the No. 26 seed Nishikori en route to an easy 6-2, 6-2 victory to move into the round of 16.

Playing in front of a large, sun-soaked Stadium court crowd at Crandon Park, del Potro gave his fans many reasons to smile. He won 77 percent of his service points, faced just one break point, and was not broken during his 72-minute match. He dropped just 10 points on his serve and outpointed Nishikori 61-40. It was his sixth win over Nishikori in eight career meetings.

Del Potro’s road to completing a sweep of the “Sunshine Double” won’t be easy, though. On Tuesday, he’ll face the No. 22 seed Filip Krajinovic in the round of 16. If he wins, No. 20 Milos Raonic could be a quarterfinal opponent, and No. 2 Marin Cilic is a possible semifinal foe. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Still, del Potro has won 13 consecutive hard court matches, including back-to-back titles at Acapulco and Indian Wells, and his 2018 win-loss record is 19-3. Four of his wins during his current winning streak have come against current Top 10 players – No. 1 Federer, No. 4 Alexander Zverev, No. 7 Dominic Thiem and No. 8 Kevin Anderson. With each match, del Potro’s backhand becomes stronger and stronger. It’s great to see him play with so much confidence – and be injury free, too.

Muguruza needs more court time

No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, the highest remaining seed in the women’s singles draw following the ouster of No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, has logged a mere 71 minutes in reaching the round of 16. After receiving a first-round bye, the Spaniard earned a second-round walkover win against 16-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, who injured her ankle late in a first-round win over Qiang Wang of China. Muguruza finally played for the first time Saturday night and dominated Christina McHale of the United States, 6-2, 6-1, on Stadium court. She broke her opponent five times, lost just 11 points on her serve, and won 73 percent of her service points.

Next for the reigning Wimbledon champion is a round of 16 match against another American, 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens. So far, both players have had up and down seasons. Although Muguruza was a finalist in Doha and reached the semifinals in Dubai, she played unevenly in losing a pair of second-round matches at Melbourne and Indian Wells. She takes an 8-5 win-loss record into Monday afternoon’s Stadium court showdown with No. 12 Stephens, who is 5-4 this season. In one previous head-to-head match, Muguruza beat Stephens in Wuhan, China, in 2015.

Federer to skip clay season, again

It’s a rare occasion when both the men’s and women’s World No. 1s are eliminated on the same day – and in the same tournament. However, it happened at the Miami Open on Saturday in back-to-back matches on the Stadium court. First, Simona Halep lost to No. 30 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. Then, Roger Federer was shockingly upset by 21-year-old Australian qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4). It was Federer’s second consecutive loss – a first for him since 2014 – after beginning the season with a 17-0 win-loss record.

“Look it’s disappointing and I don’t know why I couldn’t get to any level that I was happy with today, but sometimes you have these matches,” said Federer matter-of-factly, during his post-match Q & A with the media. “Sometimes, you get it done, but I couldn’t get it done today.”

Kokkinakis, ranked No. 175, became the lowest-ranked male player to beat a No. 1 since No. 178 Francisco Clavet beat Lleyton Hewitt at Miami in 2003. Federer was asked to describe the promising young Kokkinakis. He said: “Look, he’s a cool guy with a cool demeanor. He’s been to Dubai to practice with me a couple of times. I know him well. I’ve always liked his game. So, I’m happy for him that on the big stage he was able to show it. It’s a big result for him in his career, and I hope it’s going to launch him.”

Meanwhile, Federer, 36, will lose the No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal when the Emirates ATP Rankings are updated at the conclusion of the Miami Open. Nadal will reclaim No. 1 with 8,770 points while Federer will drop to 8,670 on April 2.

“I deserve it after this match,” said Federer of his demotion in the rankings after he became the oldest player to be ranked No. 1. “That’s how I feel. It’s so bad.”

When asked after his early exit in Miami if the conversation about the clay season now begins with his team, Federer announced he will skip the entire European clay season – including the French Open – for the second consecutive year. “Yes, it already did. I’ve decided not to play,” he said. It’s a strategy that proved effective last year and enabled Federer to focus on Wimbledon, which he won for a remarkable eighth time.

While it might disappoint his fans, standing down seems like the right move by Federer. Certainly, at his age, it will allow him to stay fresh for both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Unlike Roland Garros, these are tournaments Federer realistically can still do well in – even win.

Chung all smiles on and off court

It’s been all smiles in Miami for No. 19 seed Hyeon Chung, both on and off the court. On the court, the 21-year-old Korean looked impressive Sunday in punching his ticket for the fourth round with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over No. 176 Michael Mmoh of the United States. It followed his 6-3, 7-5 second-round win over No. 76 Matthew Ebden of Australia. Next, Chung will face No. 80 Joao Sousa. He’s also playing doubles with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, who is also still alive in the singles draw and faces No. 11 seed Sam Querrey in a fourth-round match on Monday.

Off the court, Chung is on the cover of GQ Korea magazine. He recently tweeted a series of photos that have generated much positive response from his fans and well wishers:

About the author

Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.

Photo Gallery (by Brigitte Urban):