Monday, 27 June 2011

Rafael Nadal Fears Del Potro

Courtesy: Telegraph

When Juan Martín del Potro was suffering with the wrist injury that made him fearful about his very future in the sport, Rafael Nadal was among those who sent messages of support to one of the game’s most outstanding young talents.

Now 16 months on, while as thrilled as everyone else in tennis that the Argentine came through his crisis and is now making considerable strides back to his howitzer best, Nadal was left wondering quite what he has done to deserve drawing the menacing and ever-improving comeback man in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

“I’m not lucky to play against Del Potro in the round of 16,” bemoaned the champion, who has so far been ruffled by nothing, not even big serving leftie Gilles Muller playing out of his skin in the third round, as he has so far marched through without the concession of a single set.

Unlucky, Nadal believes, because he is sure that Del Potro is really a top-five player masquerading as the 24th seed. Unlucky, too, because he knows only too well the danger posed by the only man to have broken the Nadal/Roger Federer/Novak Djokovic monopoly on grand-slam triumphs in the past 25 editions stretching back six years.

Of course, del Potro is not yet back to being quite the man who overpowered Nadal in the semi and then Federer in the final of the 2009 US Open, victories aged only 20, which seemed to signal his massive threat to the Rog-Raf axis until last season’s wrist injury so sadly interrupted his progress for, effectively, an entire year.

Indeed, the way Del Potro sells it, he is still in need of much restoration work, as he reminded us of how he was soundly beaten by Nadal in Indian Wells only in March. “He won really easily and I don’t know if I’m still far away from that level. Going to be tough for me,” he said.

Nadal will not be sidetracked by these protestations. Del Potro has returned confidently enough to have won a couple of tournaments this year already and to have given Djokovic, when the Serb was still unbeaten for the season, a run for his money at the French Open. Now, Del Potro has reached the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time too.

And Nadal will not forget how much trouble he has had in the past trying to tame the 6ft 6in beanpole’s big serve and murderous flat forehand, having lost three of their eight encounters, most notably the 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 hiding two years ago at Flushing Meadows.

When asked what was so difficult about del Potro’s game, he shrugged: “Everything. I think he has a good serve, very good shots from the baseline, he’s a complete player. It’s always a big challenge to play against him; he’s one of the best players in the world and I have to be playing my best tennis to win.”

Well, Nadal has been playing some of his best tennis, making smooth progress in search of a third title and with the only concern being a slight leg muscle niggle, which he suffered after a slip and that necessitated a visit from the trainer during the Muller match. “But this is not limiting my game. I can play without problems,” he insisted.

Yet perhaps the biggest threat to him is Del Potro’s nothing-to-lose mentality. For when the Argentine thinks back to early last year, he felt “scared” then that nobody could identify exactly the tendon problem in his right wrist.

“It was a very bad year,” he recalled. “When nobody knew the problem, it was a bad thing for my mind. Then, after I had surgery, it was difficult to come back too because I felt the world wanted to see me playing, and it was a lot of pressure.

“After the surgery, the doctor said it would take between four and six months before you are playing again. So I was very, very quiet, thinking if I follow him step by step, very quietly, I will be playing again.”

Now the quiet period is over, maybe Del Potro is ready to make a big noise again. You can almost feel that sense of release and freedom that he can swing through the ball again with the old violent intent.

So, how to beat Nadal? “Well, you should play unbelievable tennis. You should play everything perfect, and then maybe you have a little chance,” said Del Potro. All Nadal will recognise, though, is that he has been on the wrong end of this fellow’s “unbelievable tennis” before.

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