Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Del Potro, Djokovic move toward showdown

High ball? No problem!
Novak Djokovic began Roland Garros the way he ended Rome, playing near perfect tennis and routing Thiemo De Bakker 6-2 6-1 6-3 in the first round.

Djokovic scored his 38th straight win since the start of the 2011 and is just one win form playing another Grand Slam winner after Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro took out Ivo Karlovic 6-7(7), 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The world no.2 would surely be favored in that match, but Del Potro, who reached the semis in Paris two years ago, has the weapons to hurt him on a great day. The question is, if the Serb continues to play at the level that has seen him take down five times Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal in four finals this year, including twice on clay courts, will Del Potro be able to stand in and fight off a man who is kissing the corners seemingly at will?

"It was a great first match for me at Roland Garros," said the now 24-year-old Djokovic. "I was serving, really, really serving and being very aggressive. Pressure is always there, over the years you learn how to deal with it. I know there is a lot of expectation because of the streak I have but I'm really happy the way I'm handling things right now on and off the court."

Del Potro was also impressive, not losing his composure after he lost the first set tiebreaker to the 6'10" Karlovic. He began to return with more authority, served and moved well for a man who is 6'6" himself and largely dominated play from the backcourt.

Del Potro, who made a last minute decision to fly to Roland Garros after sustaining a hip injury in Madrid, was pleased with his performance.

"It was really tough match," he said. "It's difficult to play against Karlovic, because you don't have many chance to break his serve, but I made a good match. I was focused in the beginning to the final, and I got through it. I had to be patient. I had to wait for the right moment. When it came, I managed to go for it."

Del Potro is seen more of a dark horse pick than a flat out favorite as only Nadal and Djokovic have consistently gone deep at the big events this year, but for the first time this year, he's thinking that maybe his level is good enough to be called one of the favorites. Del Potro has been tempering the expectations for his results as he spent most of 2010 out with a wrist injury.

"It's good to be part of a small group of favorites," he said. "Yet I am very much aware of my present condition. I need to take a rest. I need to recover from a physical standpoint. This is the most important."

Most of the other seeds got through on the day, but France's Stephane Robert shocked no.6 and 2010 semifinalist Tomas Berdych 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 9-7, while Belgium's Steve Darcis upended no.22 Michael Llodra 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3 6-3.

France's Richard Gasquet played well in dispatching Czech veteran Radek Stepanek 7-5 6-3 6-0, and seeds Gael Monfils, Nikolay Davydenko, Janko Tipsarevic, Thomaz Bellucci, Mikhail Youzhny and Viktor Troicki also got through.

While three young American women all went down, US veteran and tenth seed Mardy Fish pounded his way past Ricardo Mello 6-2, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. Fish has never had much success at Roland Garros, but is in much better condition than he was two years ago, is a smarter player and believes he can stick in with anyone on any surface if he plays his game. That doesn't mean that he thinks he can win the tournament, but is does mean he thinks he can compete.

"It was pretty close to three hours, if it wasn't three hours," Fish said. "I felt fine. Physically it wasn't an issue. And it can't be an issue if you want to win some matches here. Not everything is going to go exactly according to plan on this surface. Right now [my goal] is to just get to the third round. I've never done that before her. Just by the changes that I've made and the sacrifices that I've made and the work ethic has changed, I set out to try to do some things that I've never done before at the French Open, win two rounds and put myself in this position and go from there. It doesn't sound like a mentality probably of a top 10 player, but it's mine here."

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