An intriguing quarter-final contest takes place between Juan Martin del Potro and Radek Stepanek tomorrow afternoon at the Apia International in Sydney. It is the sixth meeting between the two athletes with the head-to-head record standing at 3-2 in favour of Stepanek.
It was a tough start for Del Potro in Sydney; The Argentine was dealt Nicholas Mahut in his first professional match on 2014 and it was certainly not the start he would have imagined. The Frenchman at one time held a set and a break advantage over Del Potro before the Argentine was able to recover to steal the match in three sets. The win kept his hopes alive to increase his ranking and to build momentum ahead of the Australian Open. Considering his goal is to prove that he belongs in the “Big Four”, this was a necessary win ahead of the season-opening Grand Slam.
Del Potro is coming off an outstanding season, where he finished No. 5 for the first time since 2009 and in Top 10 for fourth time in six years, also picking up 50+ wins over the season for the third time in his career, with a 9-2 record in Grand Slam tournaments. He won four ATP 500 titles: Rotterdam, Washington, Tokyo and Basel.
World no. 45 Radek Stepanek holds victories over wildcard entrant card Samuel Groth and lucky loser Albert Ramos in his first two contests in Sydney. His third contest will certainly be a far more difficult affair as he will face the world no. 5 for a spot in the semi-finals. The 35-year-old is coming off another remarkable season on the tour, particularly in his Davis Cup performances, where he became the first player to win fifth and deciding rubber in a Davis Cup final in back-to-back years, leading Czech Republic to 3-2 win over Serbia in Belgrade.
This marks the sixth career meeting between Del Potro and Stepanek, with the head-to-head series standing at 3-2 in favor of the Czech no.2 . The last time they met was in 2012, when Stepanek won 6-4, 7-6(5) at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Del Potro would later follow up with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory in a clay-court Davis Cup rubber on home soil. It will be interesting to see if Stepanek will manage to attack the clearly sluggish Juan Martin and whether he can manage another upset win over the Argentine. If Del Potro comes in form, he should manage a victory in three sets.
Prediction: Juan Martin del Potro in Three Sets