Thursday, May 26, 2011

Time For a Test?

Novak Djokovic will face former French Open semifinalist Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. Does delpo have a shot?

Just some quick and perhaps random thoughts on one of the more highly anticipated matches of the 2011 French Open since the draws came out a week ago.

Above you can see the tale of the tape, and it, like so many other things this week, favors Djokovic. Nole hasn't lost to del Potro in their three previous matches, and really, it's a stretch to imagine any player other than Rafa -- even one of Del Potro's stature -- giving the Serb a run for his money at the moment.

Del Potro has had a fantastic year, and he's climbed all the way back into the top 30 from an injury-distorted low ranking of 484 in February. Naturally, we all know del Potro is a top 5 player when he gets completely healthy and gets enough matches under his belt so that he's clicking on all cylinders. He's approached that form of late, but when he went down with a hip injury in Madrid, his chances of going deep in the French took a hit.

When he drew a third round match meeting with Djokovic, his chances took another hit. Del Potro is 9-0 on clay, with wins over Youzhny and Soderling, but there are still doubts about his injury, especially if he finds himself in a war of attrition with Nole.

Can the big Argentine muster the energy to rattle Dkokovic's cage? Even at less than a hundred percent, Del Potro possesses the uncanny ability to find a way to win matches with more than just his tennis. Not every player can do that, but Del Potro is great at gutting out victories even when he's not playing perfect tennis. His ability to perform under pressure, and to rise to the occasion of big matches is legendary; and unlike some of the other massive-hitting behemoths on tour, Del Potro as adept tactically as well. He doesn't only possess supersonic ground strokes. Del Potro also moves uncommonly well for a big man, slides well on the clay, and navigates all the pitfalls of a grueling mental and physical match with aplomb.

All this is good, but it still doesn't make Del Potro anything more than a longshot versus Djokovic. Sure, it gives him a chance, but let's be sensible here. Delpo's got more of a chance than Djokovic's two previous victims at Roland Garros (de Bakker and Hanescu), but to think that Del Potro can come back from a lower body injury and push Djokovic in a best of five match on red clay is simply asking a bit too much.

Djokovic, winner of 41 consecutive matches since last December, has been flat-out invincible this year. Nobody thinks that Djokovic will continue to win matches from here to eternity, but at this point it seems like nothing but a losing proposition to bet against him. Sure, he'll run out of steam eventually, but right now Djokovic is like a marathoner who sprints to the finish in the last half mile. He's so close to the finish line and I think that he's about to break into a full sprint starting tomorrow.

As good -- even great -- as delpo is, I don't think now is the time for him to pull another rabbit out of a hat like he did against Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final.

Perhaps he'll turn this into a fight -- and who wouldn't like to see that? -- but Djokovic is the wrong guy to pick a fight with in 2011.

Djokovic and Del Potro both have big weapons, but Djokovic has a limitless supply of ammo, and if he's forced to, he'll use whatever he has to ensure the streak continues.

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