Djokovic vs. Del Potro: The Rivalry Resumes
Djokovic to face Argentine for 17th time
At first glance it is a rivalry that reads heavily in Novak Djokovic’s favour, but a closer inspection of the Serbian’s encounters with Juan Martin del Potro reveals a very different state of affairs. For nearly a decade the two have waged a string of epic battles and after their respective second-round triumphs at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, they will lock horns for a 17th time this week.
Djokovic leads the FedEx ATP Head2Head series 12-4, but five of their past six matches have gone the distance. The only match in those six that hasn’t was del Potro’s narrow 7-6(4), 7-6(2) shock win in the first round of last year’s Rio Olympic Games. It was a victory the Argentine used as a springboard to claim the Olympic silver medal (l. to Murray).
"I have to give it my all," said Djokovic. "That's what it takes to beat this guy. Even though he is not ranked as high and he hasn't played that many tournaments [he was] definitely one of the best players in the world last year, especially in the second part of the year, winning Davis Cup, silver medal for his country – beating myself – and [beating] Wawrinka at Wimbledon.
"He’s a tough player to beat. He’s a big guy, big serve, big forehand. Definitely not the draw that you like early in the tournament and that you wish for, but it is what it is.
"I have played him some weeks ago in Acapulco. Very close match. It went down to the last couple of points. I don't expect anything less than that."
Injuries to del Potro have surely robbed the pair of adding to that rivalry. They did not play each other for nearly three years from the 2013 ATP Finals round-robin stage, which Djokovic won, until their Rio Olympics clash.
It was a rivalry arguably stymied at its peak, with the pair duelling five times in 2013. Djokovic may have claimed the Fed Ex ATP Head2Head bragging rights that year 4-1, but four of the five encounters went the distance, including one of the greatest semi-final battles seen at Wimbledon when the Serbian emerged triumphant after four hours and 43 minutes, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3.
The pair has played once before at Indian Wells and del Potro will be hoping it proves a good omen. The Argentine claimed that battle in the 2013 semi-finals in three sets.
Five-time champion Novak Djokovic meets 2013 finalist Juan Martin del Potro in a third-round showdown at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday. Djokovic is one win from tying Pete Sampras for 10th in the Open Era with 762 victories overall. A win would also allow Djokovic to join Roger Federer (331) and Rafael Nadal (318) as the third player to earn 300 ATP Masters 1000 victories.
Djokovic has won 18 straight matches at the BNP Paribas Open, tied for the longest winning streak in the tournament’s 42-year history. Federer won 18 straight matches to capture the Indian Wells title in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Ironically, del Potro is the last man to defeat the three-time defending champion Djokovic at Indian Wells, edging the Serbian 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the 2013 semi-finals.
Del Potro’s win over Djokovic here four years ago is his only victory in their rivalry at an ATP World Tour or Grand Slam event. The former World No. 4 also defeated Djokovic during the 2011 Davis Cup semi-finals and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Djokovic is 30-4 against Argentines since 2008 (11-4 against del Potro). He won his most recent meeting with del Potro at Acapulco on March 1.
Federer and Nadal, the Australian Open finalists, are a win away from a rematch on Wednesday. The fifth-seeded Nadal faces No. 26 seed Fernando Verdasco, who is 3-2 in his last five meetings with his countryman. However, when the left-handed Spaniards met in the Indian Wells third round last year, Nadal saved five set points in the second set of his 6-0, 7-6(9) victory over Verdasco.
The 10th-ranked Federer meets American Steve Johnson on Tuesday. During his career, Federer has won 88 per cent of his matches against Americans (92-13) and 81 per cent against other opponents (997-233). Johnson is 0-17 against Top 9 players, but 2-0 against No. 10 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. The Californian beat then-No. 10s Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2016.
All eight seeds in the bottom quarter of the draw are into the third round, including No. 15 Nick Kyrgios and No. 18 Alexander Zverev. Kyrgios was the top-ranked #NextGenATP player in 2016, a position now being filled by Zverev because the Aussie turns 22 in April. They meet Tuesday for the first time since Kyrgios beat Zverev 6-3, 6-1 in June 2013 for an ITF junior title at Roehampton.
Four Americans who won three-setters on Sunday are back in action, including Donald Young, 19-year-old wild card Taylor Fritz and No. 17 seed Jack Sock. Sock, the Auckland and Delray Beach champion, meets No. 12 seed Grigor Dimitrov, the Brisbane and Sofia champion. Dimitrov is 17-2 and tied with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the most victories on the ATP World Tour this season.