To date, Juan Martin Del Potro has enjoyed substantial success at every Grand Slam tournament other than the one he is currently contesting.
The Argentine, a US Open champion in 2009, has also been a semi-finalist at Roland Garros and twice an Australian Open quarter-finalist. But never before had he gone beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon.
That changed on Monday, when the No.8 seed powered his way into the last eight over Andreas Seppi. In much the same manner as in his third round victory against Grega Zemlja, Del Potro grew in both strength and power as the match progressed, cantering to a 6-4 7-6(2) 6-3 victory.
The victory sets up a tough, but winnable, quarter-final against David Ferrer. “I think I play really well,” he said. “Seppi is a really good player on grass. Was really close match. I won a tie-break. Then in the end, I play better … I think I'm playing better and better match by match.
“He [Ferrer] made quarters last year here. He beat me. Now we have the chance to go to the semis for the first time. But I think it's going to be a really, really tough match for me. I will have to play my best tennis.”
Del Potro had his fair share of doubts coming into the match. One was his health – he had hyper-extended his left knee in his last match during a fall, hurting his ankle in the process as well. Arriving on court with requisite taping, he showed no obvious signs of discomfort, yet reported some pain.
Another was his opponent. Del Potro noted Seppi’s proficiency on grass, highlighted by extraordinary success in Eastbourne – the Italian has been a champion, finalist and semi-finalist in his last three visits there – as well as two third-round finishes at Wimbledon prior to his career-best run this year.
Seppi, indeed, seemed to be the more comfortable as the match began, a forehand passing winner bringing up break point in the second game. Del Potro escaped to hold but struggled to shake the No. 23 seed – the first seven games took almost 40 minutes to complete.
But it was in that seventh game that the Argentine made his move. Smiting his forehand and maintaining excellent length, he goaded Seppi into errors with superior weight of shot.
With the break in hand, he ran out the first set a winner. And with break point opportunities in the first, third – thanks to a fabulous running forehand winner – and seventh games, Del Potro looked poised to take a vice-like grip on proceedings.
Yet winners frequently bailed the Italian out of trouble, and when he played a delightfully weighted lob – his fourth winner from that stroke in the match – to hold serve, he led 6-5.
However, in the 12th game the Italian slipped awkwardly after being wrong-footed by a Del Potro winner and he remained horizontal for quite some time. Although playing on apparently unhurt, his concentration and confidence seemed to take a significant hit. He barely won a point for the remainder of the set as Del Potro forced a tiebreak, and then raced through it for the loss of just two points.
The Argentine has talked about a steadily growing in comfort on the lawns, and it showed in the third set. Nimble around the court despite his 6ft 6in frame, he dug out low slices, picked off expert volleys and flattened out his serve and ground strokes appropriately.
Breaking early, he raced through the final set, and despite a few nerves closing it out in the final game from 40-0 up, sealed victory on his fourth match point.
“I'm so, so happy for be in the quarters for first time. I reach quarters here, and all the Grand Slams [now], as well,” he said. “I have good memories from last year during Wimbledon and the Olympics.”
Should he continue progressing in this fashion at the 2013 Championships, he’ll likely bank some even better ones.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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