Juan Martin del Potro beats Haase to make it 11 wins in a row in Basel
Juan Martin del Potro is through to the second round of the Swiss Indoors tournament in Basel after beating Robin Haase
If there is one man that a tennis player does not want to see in his half of the draw—whether they be world No1 Novak Djokovic, multiple Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, Basel boy par excellence, Roger Federer, or simply an aspiring World Tour Finals qualifier like David Goffin—it is Juan Martin del Potro.
Just ask Djokovic, who the big Argentine beat into submission at the Rio Olympics, or Nadal, who also lost out to the Argentine in Rio, or Federer, who lost two Basel finals when facing del Potro, or Goffin, who is scheduled to meet him in Basel’s second round.
Certainly any unseeded player would count himself unlucky to be drawn against del Potro in the first round. A man who had got into the main draw via qualifying may count themselves doubly unfortunate. To trip and twist a left hip in only the third game of the match—well that would feel like the gods were conspiring.
Yet that is just the scenario that presented itself to Robin Haase.
The popular del Potro, a former No4 in the world and winner of the US Open before he turned 21, subsequently endured the kind of injury woes that may have finished many another player: repeated problems that required surgery on both right and left wrists.
In the latest bout of woes, surgery took him out of 2014 from spring through the rest of the year and for all but four matches in 2015. He only returned again to the tour this February ranked 1,042, and still had to miss Rome and Roland Garros to give his wrist more healing time.
Yet following tentative appearances through to Wimbledon, he began to show that old power, first with his run at the Olympics to win silver, then in a quarter-final finish at the US Open, plus a remarkable effort in the longest singles match played against Andy Murray to take Argentina into the Davis Cup final. After a light Asian swing—just one match—he last week won his first title in almost three years in Stockholm.
Now del Potro was back at Basel for the first time since his back-to-back victories over Federer in 2012-2013, and already with his ranking up to No42.
So yes, for the No64-ranked Haase, this promised to be something of a trial by fire, even though the Dutchman had reached the final of three Challenger tournaments since the US Open, and won one of them.
And when, at just a game apiece, Haase tripped and jarred his hip so badly that he could not even walk from court, this looked like a very short match.
But the wonders of the physio’s hands had him back and playing, albeit soon a break down. Del Potro did not look entirely comfortable either, perhaps still sluggish from Stockholm, but he held with an ace for the set, 6-3.
Del Potro looked even more uncomfortable at the start of the second set as he prowled the back of the court, distracted and ponderous. Haase then put up a superb lob winner on break point to seal a 2-0 lead—only to hand the break straight back.
When the qualifier gave up another break with three errors in a row, it looked all over bar the shouting, but not so: Haase promptly broke straight back—a rarity against the del Potro serve—and they edged to 4-4.
It took just one strike of magic, however, in the shape of a backhand down-the-line pass from del Potro, to break once more, and this time he made no mistake, serving it out, 6-4.
So from a beaten qualifier, the former champion moves on to Goffin, who could move past Tomas Berdych in the Race to London and into the eighth qualifying place if he wins the Basel title.
The good thing for Goffin is that he has only played del Potro once before, just weeks ago in Shanghai—and he came back from a set down to win, 7-5, in the third set. The bad thing for Goffin is that, even if he beats del Potro, he still has to face No3 seed Kei Nishikori, who beat Paolo Lorenzi, 7-6, 6-2, and all that just to reach the semi-finals.
But the prize is a big one—and there are still three places up for grabs with the Paris Masters to come next week.