Juan Martin Del Potro and Tim Smyczek will be squaring off for the first time in their careers when they clash in round one of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night. It is the second event of 2016 for Del Potro, who missed almost all of last year with recurring wrist problems. The Argentine played in Sydney last January, practiced in Indian Wells but did not officially participate in the tournament, and then appeared at the Miami Masters–losing right away to Vasek Pospisil. The wrist issue popped up once more and Del Potro did not play again until the Delray Beach Open last month. An encouraging return saw the one-time major champion (2009 U.S. Open) defeat Denis Kudla, John-Patrick Smith, and Jeremy Chardy all in straight sets before losing to Sam Querrey in the semifinals.
It has already been a positive week in the desert for Smyczek, who surged into the main draw with a pair of hard-fought qualifying victories. The 116th-ranked American defeated two young and on-the-rise Americans–Michael Mmoh 7-6(2), 2-6, 7-5 and Tommy Paul 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Smyczek also qualified for the Australian Open, advanced one round there, and he is coming off a quarterfinal showing in Delray Beach.
Smyczek’s plan will obviously be to find his opponent’s backhand with just about every shot, but that is easier said than done. He will have a tough time dictating play in order to execute that plan, as Del Potro is still hitting the ball big with his serve and forehand. The 27-year-old pretty much hit Kudla, Smith, and Chardy right off the court in Delray Beach. Additionally, Del Potro’s wrist must be feeling good because he has also signed up for doubles this week with Leonardo Mayer. Barring any physical problems, Del Potro should be able to take care of business against an adversary who may be feeling two difficult three-setters in his legs.
Prediction: Del Potro in straight sets