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Outsider Del Potro continues to make stealthy progress

Juan Martin Del Potro in action on Centre Court.
by Matt Trollope
Saturday 29 June 2013

Given the buzz surrounding ousted superstars Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, it has been easy to overlook the progress of Juan Martin Del Potro.

The Argentine, a rare Grand Slam winner outside the Big Four and seeded highly at No.7, has barely been discussed as a title contender at Wimbledon despite being one of the highest ranked seeds remaining.

And he again slipped through the draw under the radar on Day Six at The Championships, brushing aside Slovenia’s Grega Zemlja in less than two hours to set up a fourth round battle with Italy’s Andreas Seppi.

As Bernard Tomic was sensationally upsetting No.9 seed Richard Gasquet on Centre Court, and hometown hero Laura Robson was whipping up an even greater fervour on No.2 court with her three-set win, “Delpo” quietly dissected Zemlja’s game out of the glare of the spotlight on Court 12.

Improving as the match wore on, he recorded a decisive 7-5 7-6(3) 6-0 win.

Early on it was a far more competitive affair, with the first 10 games progressing on serve.

Zemlja has taken a liking to the lawns, in 2009 and 2011 and reaching the second round in the past two years, results he bettered with a win over No.29 seed Grigor Dimitrov in five sets in the second round.

His slightly unorthodox game – highlighted by a stabbed backhand played with little foot movement or follow-through – held up to the Argentine’s substantial baseline artillery.

But playing metres behind the baseline, he was always on the back foot. And when he erred twice on his forehand in the 11th game, Del Potro snatched the first break of the match and promptly consolidated.

Not one break point was registered by either player in the second set, which progressed to a tie-break. Possibly the only stat of note was the fact that the smaller, less powerful Slovenian led the winners count to that point, 33-17.

A combination of the Argentine’s winners and Zemlja’s errors made the breaker a speedy affair: del Potro claimed it 7-3, capping it with an ace out wide and a big roar.

Del Potro said: “I think he served really well on the second set. He made like 20 first serves in a row, and I only won a point during the tie-break. He was very, very tough for me trying to break his serve.

“In the tie-break I play better, like you have to play in this surface. Only the most important moments you have to play better than the opponent, and then try to take the opportunity to win. That's what I did today.”

From there, the world No.55’s resistance crumbled. Del Potro broke on his way to a 3-0 lead, and despite taking a frightening tumble into the courtside furniture after successfully chasing down a drop shot for a winner, he would not be deterred. Soon it was 5-0, and after a quick strapping job from the trainer to ease the pressure on his left knee – which bore the brunt of his fall – he clinched the win after Zemlja surrendered serve with a flurry of errors.

The Argentine moves into the last 16 for the third straight year, where waiting this time will not be Rafael Nadal or David Ferrer – his conquerors in 2011 and 2012 – but Seppi, a player ranked outside the top 25.

Is a first Wimbledon quarter-final a possibility? “I'm going match by match and will try to fix my ankle and the knee first,” Del Potro replied cautiously.

“All the matches are a big opportunity to stay winning. But the opponents are good, and you can see you have a very good example here in this tournament.  All the guys are prepared [to] beat all the players and they can surprise everyone.”

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