Bangkok, 28 September 2010

O.Rochus d. del Potro 7/6 6/4

Just tuned in to see Olivier Rochus out-muscling Juan Martin del Potro from the baseline. Fancy that.

Just seeing del Potro slap that strange, artillery forehand reminds me how much the men’s game needs him back fit and competing. If nothing else, Nadal needs a tough match-up, with Davydenko still at reduced capacity and Murray’s introspection growing to be self-consuming.

As I write both players have lifted magnificently in the first set tiebreak. Some really great stuff, with the tiny Belgian still holding his own. Winners aplenty – 3 consecutive points decided by scintillating backhand winners up the line, including one to save set point from Rochus. Rochus takes the tiebreak with some breakneck ball striking. He’s making hay off del Potro’s second serve, according to the useful stat box the broadcasters only show at the end of sets. The Argentine looks unfazed, but that doesn’t mean anything. What actually rattles this man? I suspect they could have performed his wrist surgery without anaesthetic and he would have retained that expression. Speaking of which, he’s now having his right wrist re-taped – is this an ominous sign? There seems to be a lot of crowd support for del Potro, or at least a lot of Thai people who own Argentinian flags and like to wave them about.

Rochus takes the second, and the match. He looks thrilled, but also satisfied, as though he’d come into this encounter not expecting to win, but feeling he had a chance. It’s the paradoxically fatalistic confidence that comes with experience. I’ll make the inevitable comparison – usually reserved for the Belgian’s encounters with Ivo Karlovic – and say that Rochus’ effort was biblical, although the original Goliath had a hell of a lot more match-practice in hand.

For his part del Potro looked promising, but underdone (well, duh). He fired his share of aces, although it’s not as though Rochus has the reach to lay strings on the big wide stuff. He hit his forehand with conviction, and that wonderful action with its tiny flourish looks unchanged, which had been my concern. Unfortunately, he also hit the net a lot. The margins at this level are tiny as it is, but when you hit your shots that hard and flat, they shrink to almost nothing. Against an opponent who by simple genetics won’t be kicking the ball up past your waist, and lacking match-play yourself, there is pretty much no margin at all. Underdone or not, del Potro clearly lacked the patience to construct points and make things happen. Having said that, when his massive forehands collected the tape it was mostly on mid-court shots he should be pulling the trigger on, anyway. I’m now intensely curious to see where he goes from here. Here’s hoping he gets back to the top, and reasserts himself as a genuine contender. The men’s game is crying out for it.

It’s given the year’s end a bit more of a point.

Other points:

  • Can Federer make up some points and regain No.2? Djokovic has a fair few points to defend in the next little bit, and a Davis Cup final to stay fit for. Can Fed win Paris for the first time, or even get past the quarters?
  • How focused will Nadal be? The WTF is now the only substantial title Rafa lacks – how keen is he?
  • Andy Murray? Discuss.
  • Davydenko – this is usually his time to shine, or at least earn. He has buckets of points to defend. I’m predicting he won’t be able to, and he’ll have a dangerously low seeding come Melbourne.
  • How will the French armada perform in Paris? I like it when they do well, and I’d perversely like to see Monfils break through for his maiden Masters title in Paris. Not that he deserves it.
  • Andy Roddick. He’s basically gone at this point, isn’t he? His journey from exuberant excitement-machine to pedestrian pusher seems pretty much complete. I so much want to be proved wrong.

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