ATP WORLD TOUR SEASON REVIEW
Rivalries Of 2013: Djokovic vs. del Potro
Best Of 2013
by James Buddell|
Two of the ATP World Tour's power players met on a career-high five occasions. Each FedEx ATP Head2Head clash was packed full of entertainment.
In the first of their five meetings, Djokovic and del Potro met in a slugfest at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Djokovic has played with great confidence in the Emirati desert, ever since his first appearance in 2007 (28-3 record).
Mid-afternoon on 1 March, Djokovic dramatically fought back from 0-3 in the second set against Juan Martin del Potro, who had saved one match point at 5-3 and prevented Djokovic serving out the match at 5-4. He was outplayed in the tie-break.
Djokovic, who eventually won 6-3, 7-6(4) for a spot in his fourth Dubai final, said, "I was very pleased with the performance overall and the way I handled myself in the tough moments. Mentally I stayed tough and believed that I could go all the way and win in straight sets. I didn't really allow myself to be negative."
Fifteen days later, it was del Potro's turn to celebrate in another desert as he recovered from a 0-3 deficit in the deciding set of their BNP Paribas Open semi-final at Indian Wells. Twenty four hours after beating Andy Murray in the quarter-finals, del Potro broke Djokovic's 22-match winning streak with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win in two hours and 50 minutes.
"The crowd wanted to watch more tennis and [it] helped me to play my best tennis in the end," said del Potro. "I think it was my best match in this tournament, for sure." Djokovic admitted, "All the credit to my opponent today. He deserved to win because he was more composed in the important moments and he played the right shots."
What followed was arguably one of the greatest matches of the season. In their only previous grass-court meeting, del Potro had beaten Djokovic 7-5, 6-4 for the bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Tennis Event. So when the pair met once again on Centre Court, in the semi-finals of The Championships at Wimbledon, Djokovic had a score to settle. It was the peak of their rivalry in 2013.
On 5 July, Djokovic won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3 in the longest Wimbledon semi-final in history at four hours and 43 minutes. It had beaten the previous record of Boris Becker versus Ivan Lendl in 1989, which lasted four hours and one minute. But for Djokovic, who had been unable to convert two match point opportunities at 6-4 in the fourth set tie-break before needing a further 47 minutes for victory, it was emotionally draining.
"It was one of the best matches that I've been a part of, one of the most exciting definitely," said Djokovic, who hit 80 winners, including 22 aces. "I'm privileged to be a winner of this match. It was so close, they couldn't separate us. Every time he was in tough situations he came up with unbelievable shots." Del Potro, who had been attempting to follow in the footsteps of 2002 runner-up David Nalbandian, said, "I was so close to be at the finals here in Wimbledon. I think I played really good tennis for four hours and a half... He hit the ball so hard. I think it was unbelievable to watch."
Coming into their fourth FedEx ATP Head2Head clash of the season, in the final of the Shanghai Rolex Masters, both players were in form. The week before, Djokovic had won the China Open in Beijing (d. Nadal) and del Potro had picked up the third of three ATP World Tour 500 trophies at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo (d. Raonic)
On 13 October, Djokovic improved his winning streak to 20 matches on Chinese soil with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(3) victory over Rafael Nadal's semi-final conqueror at the Qi Zhong Stadium in Shanghai. Del Potro saved two match points at 4-5, 15/40 in the decider before moving to an inevitable tie-break.
"He's a fantastic player and a great person," said Djokovic. "He showed that again. He's a big fighter. All the way up to the last point, I didn't know if I was going to win the match." Del Potro was disappointed, admitting, "The match was really close and I think Nole played [some] unbelievable points in the tie-break. It's a really bad loss for me now. I was really close to beating him after beating Nadal [6-2, 6-4]."
Watch Shanghai Final Highlights
Their most recent meeting came just 15 days ago in Group B at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Two-time champion Djokovic beat 2009 runner-up del Potro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
While Djokovic leads del Potro 11-3 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, the World No. 2 firmly believes that the Argentine will be a major threat in 2014. "He has one of the biggest serves in the sport," said Djokovic. "He has one of the most aggressive forehands. He knows how to play on a big stage. He definitely has skills and he definitely has qualities.
"If he's able to physically sustain that challenge of consistency - something that obviously is the biggest hurdle for any player - [and] if you're managing to stay fit and stay healthy throughout the whole year, then you have a good chance to be in the top spot and obviously a contender to win Grand Slam titles."
Del Potro finished the year at No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, with a 51-16 record. Djokovic completed the season 24 matches unbeaten and with a 74-9 overall record, including seven titles.
Djokovic vs. del Potro: 2013 Meetings
|Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships SFs||Djokovic||63 76(4)|
|BNP Paribas Open SFs||Del Potro||46 64 64|
|Wimbledon SFs||Djokovic||75 46 76(2) 67(6) 63|
|Shanghai Rolex Masters Final||Djokovic||61 36 76(3)|
|Barclays ATP World Tour Finals RR||Djokovic||63 36 63|
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