Arguably the most interesting match of the ATP Tour Finals on Thursday takes place in the night session between titans Novak Djokovic (Player Bio) and towering Argentine Juan Martin del Potro (Player Bio). These two elite competitors have a budding rivalry that have been gradually growing in intensity over the past few years. Extraordinary contests in the London Olympics, Davis Cup and an absolute classic at last year’s Wimbledon semi-finals, emphasizes the way these two have managed to captivate audiences with their display of sheer determination and will. Djokovic may hold a 10-3 lead in the head-to-head series but that is certainly not a gauge on this rivalry as Del Potro is experiencing his best season on the tour since he won the US Open in 2009. Check out the Djokovic v Del Potro Head to Head.
Djokovic played a strong, albeit error-filled, opening match against Roger Federer on Tuesday evening and ended up with a three set victory over the former World No. 1. The Serb started the match at full steam and was serving high percentages in both his first and second serves, not allowing Federer any opportunities to break serve. Novak would eventually find an opportunity of his own and secure the set 6-4 on a Federer error. His focus dropped significantly in the second set as he was broken at 4-3, mostly due to his own mistakes and errors, where he basically gifted Federer the break advantage. He would rally to regain even terms with the Swiss No. 1 but eventually lost the tiebreaker in decisive fashion. The third set would be quite anti-climatic as Federer would drop his opening service game, due to errors on his serve and from there, Djokovic dominated the remainder of the match to finish it 6-2.
While the match went three sets with several shifts in momentum, it was a match that Djokovic controlled with his higher service percentages, which allowed him to hold serve much easier than Federer. It was only when his percentages dropped that he began Federer started to cause the Serbian some real trouble. To emphasize this point, one only needs to look at his points won on first serve throughout the match. In the opening set, Djokovic won 71 percent of his points on first serve, but would drop significantly to 50 percent in the second set. In the third set he would once again regain focus and won 18 out of 20 points on first serve (90 percent).
World No. 4 Juan Martin Del Potro also had to rally from a set down to defeat Richard Gasquet 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 7-5 to take an early lead in Group B. Gasquet played an incredible game to steal the opening set in the tiebreak but the Argentine recovered swiftly to take the second set 6-3. The third set was a thrilling affair, with both players mounting pressure as the set played out. Gasquet’s magnificent backhand let him down in the third set, as he gave up the break at 4-3 but shockingly broke Del Potro back to love when he was serving for the match to even the score at 5-5. Juan Martin regrouped at the crucial stage and finally broke ahead to take the match 7-5 in 2 hours and 23 minutes.
The “Tower of Tandil” has been struggling emotionally with the recent theft of his rosary, which was blessed by the new Pope and considered one of his most prized possessions. His ability to overcome those emotions, even if temporarily, to topple the World No. 9 , is a testament to his resilience and mental toughness. He will need to dig deep and maintain that toughness against Djokovic tomorrow evening. All three of Del Potro’s wins over Djokovic have come over the past couple years, which shows that he is bridging the game between them and will likely remain competitive against the former World No. 1 for the foreseeable future. He also has the advantage of a day’s rest heading into the contest, which could prove to be invaluable for his preparation and focus on Thursday.