There’s the Big Four and then there’s Juan Martin Del Potro who’s knocking on that door, and about to break it down. After a stirring Wimbledon semifinal run which sent notice to his contemporaries, the big Argentine now turns his focus to his favorite hardcourt surface.
Del Potro, who first stunned the tennis world with his jaw-dropping 2009 US Open title run, opens bid for a third Washington crown tonight against fledgling American Ryan Harrison. And the talk is how he fits in with the Big Four.
“That’s my biggest challenge for the next year,” he told reporters on Monday. “The top guys are so good. The top four have a big difference to the rest of the players. I have to do well in the big tournaments to get close, but that’s not easy.
“I know the way to beat the top guys, but it’s not easy. I believe in my game, but sometimes it’s not enough.”
Del Potro showed a lot to me at Wimbledon, dismissing two violent falls which damaged his left knee, only to push World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a 5-set cliffhanger. After that serious 2010 wrist injury stalled his ascent, might the Wimbledon match serve to relaunch it?
“It was a very good experience for me even in the loss,” he said. “I played a good match with the number one in the world in the semifinals at Wimbledon. Many good things to take.
“It was a really long battle for both of us. We played an incredible match for about five hours with high intensity. After that, I needed a week to recover myself. And Novak was really tired in the final. Everyone saw that.”
The soft-spoken giant joked, “Of course at the end of the match, I would like to kill Novak for beating me. But I couldn’t,” he said. “Novak is a friend of mine. That match looked like a war but we’re still normal people.
After Wimbledon I made Del Potro my second favorite behind Andy Murray to win the U.S. Open. And with Federer slumping, Nadal’s suspect second-half history and Djokovic still searching for that 2011 form, I see no reason to downgrade Delpo now.
Del Potro is still just 24 and packs a load of power to go with a solid mental foundation. With him it’s injuries and if, and it’s always a big if, he can stay healthy I believe he can close the gap and someday, maybe even by the end of the day, overtake them.
As for the other matches, after a tough start on Monday American tennis fans found reason to smile yesterday. Harrison upset what had to be a tired Lleyton Hewitt to set up the date with Delpo. Sam Querrey saved four matchpoints in a win over Denis Istomin and youngsters Jack Sock, Tim Smyczek and Alex Kuznetsov also advanced.
Bernard Tomic, who could meet Del Potro tomorrow, blew out David Goffin 6-1, 6-3. Like Del Potro, could Tomic also be a guy we see ruling tennis in a few years? The talent is there but can he get his head clear, his body right and his family issues sorted?
Mardy Fish, John Isner and Kei Nishikori who meets Sock are also scheduled in matches today.
In Carlsbad there’s no Williams sisters and no Maria Sharapova, who has also withdrawn from Canada with hip injury, but there are still some good matches lining up. On Wednesday, Brit sensation Laura Robson faces fellow lefty Petra Kvitova. Former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic plays recent Stanford winner Dominika Cibulkova, Victoria Azarenka celebrates her 23rd birthday against former French Open champ Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur is also on at night.
So it’s the first of many big days of tennis here in the U.S.!
WEDNESDAY WASHINGTON SCHEDULE
STADIUM COURT start 2:00 pm
 M Barthel (GER) vs A Petkovic (GER) – WTA
Not Before 4:00 PM
 J Isner (USA) vs [Q] A Kuznetsov (USA) – ATP
Not Before 5:30 PM
 T Haas (GER) vs [Q] T Smyczek (USA) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 [WC] J del Potro (ARG) vs R Harrison (USA) – ATP
[WC] J Sock (USA) vs  K Nishikori (JPN) – ATP
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