Basel 2017: Del Potro joins Federer and Cilic in QFs to challenge for London place

Juan Martin del Potro is still in the hunt for a place at the season-ending ATP Finals

del potro
Juan Martin del Potro faces Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals in Basel Photo: Marianne Bevis

While the first half of 2017 may not have been much to shout about for Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, the quality of the former US Open champion began to come to the fore with his return to the hard courts of North America.

By the time he reached the scene of his greatest victory, a full eight years before, he was starting to fire on all cylinders after one of the most injury-blighted careers on the tennis tour—four wrist surgeries thus far.

After a second-round loss at Wimbledon, he was ranked 32, but at the US Open, he went through the seeds like a dose of salts: Roberto Bautista Agut, Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer fell to his power before, exhausted by a sequence of long tough battles, he lost to Nadal in the semis.

Then in the Shanghai Masters, he made a semi run via Alexander Zverev, but this time suffered a three-set loss to Federer. Next, though, he picked up the title in Stockholm, and he arrived in Basel, apparently none the worse for wear, ranked 19.

All at once, with a swathe of fellow players succumbing to injuries of their own—Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic among them—del Potro had the chance to bid for a place at the World Tour Finals.

His hopes would certainly have been boosted in Basel, where he has twice won the title by beating home-man Federer. But how much did he have in the tank? Enough to challenge for one of the two remaining London places?

Thus far, the answer has been a resounding yes. He was taken to three sets in his opener by Joao Sousa, but bounced back to win, 6-1 in the third. And today, he led the way into the quarter-finals with a rather quicker 6-4, 6-4 win over Julien Benneteau.

And with fellow London contender Pablo Carreno Busta almost simultaneously losing his second-round match at this week’s other ATP500 in Vienna, del Potro is within touching distance of the eighth place on the leader-board for London if he wins the title in Basel.

Asked about his ambitions for the end-of-year finale, he said:

“I’m not thinking too much about London. I just want to keep going and see how far I can go here. Once I finish this tournament we’ll see if I’m in good condition to play the next one.”

And therein may lie the final twist in this tale, for the Paris Masters next week is worth bigger points still, which leaves the door open for a few men to make a late charge.

First in line, in seventh place, is David Goffin, who is also in the Basel quarter-finals. His late-season surge to the Shenzhen and Tokyo titles gained valuable ranking places, but he looked increasingly fatigued through the subsequent events prior to Basel, where he next faces a big test in Jack Sock followed, in all probability, by Federer.

However, on the plus side for both Goffin and del Potro is that Sam Querrey and Kevin Anderson lost early in Vienna, leaving just Bautista Agut and late-rising Jo-Wilfried Tsonga still in action this week. It just so happens, however, that the del Potro next faces Bautista Agut in Basel—with defending champion Marin Cilic threatening in the semis.

Cilic was tested by fellow Croat, 20-year-old Borna Coric, who enjoyed a breakthrough run on these courts as a 17-year-old, beating Nadal to reach the semis. But it was No2 seed Cilic who came through, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Coric, however, is assured of his own end-of-season finale in Milan with fellow players in the #NextGen elite.

The score-line and clock suggested that Federer had an easy time of it against Frenchman Benoit Paire, but the seven-time champion was not at his best in a ragged match.

The Swiss won, 6-1, 6-3, in under an hour, but he rarely found his usual silky rhythm against the unpredictable flair of Paire. On Federer’s opening serve, it was immediately apparent that the Frenchman did not intend to make life easy. Deuce twice and a few missed first serves still ended in a hold for the Swiss, but a Paire drop-shot in the next game had the nimble feet of Federer skidding off the court as he sprinted to the net. The Swiss survived, and then pounced on a few second serves to break to love.

But again on his own serve, Federer looked uncomfortable, 15-30. Paire was reading his delivery well, and began firing some accurate deliveries of his own for a love hold, 1-3.

A couple more blistering returns from the Frenchman drew two straight errors from the Swiss, 0-30 in the fifth game. Federer held with a net finish but he was breathing heavily with just a quarter of an hour on the clock.

Paire showed all his flamboyance in the sixth game, and forced a high smash and a dash to the net from Federer. Even so, a stunning cross-court return of serve from the Swiss broke again.

The home favourite then had to face deuce, twice hit volleys long, and it took him three set points to get the job done, but he did so in 23 minutes, 6-1, with just five winners to eight errors.

To add to the Frenchman’s problems, Paire needed treatment on his back before the second set, but still had Federer off balance and hitting errors. Paire opened with a love hold, then faced break points in the third game, but continued to keep Federer at bay. However, it went down-hill from there: Federer broke one more time for the match, 6-3.

The top seed next plays Adrian Mannarino, who ended the chances of 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov in a lively and entertaining contest, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Federer’s last meeting with Mannarino was in the first round of this very tournament four years ago, a straight-forward win for the Swiss. Indeed the 29-year-old Frenchman has not won a set in four previous meetings. Then again, nor has he been ranked any higher than now. So Federer will want to regain the sharpness he showed against Frances Tiafoe to avoid an extended dog-fight before what could be a showdown with a fellow former Basel champion come Sunday: del Potro or Cilic.

After all, Federer has other fish to fry after attempting to win No8 in his home town. For if he is so inclined, he still has the No1 ranking to chase through Paris and London.

Race to London: Basel/Vienna this week; Paris worth 1,000 to champion next week

Qualified

1 Rafael Nadal 10,465

2 Roger Federer 8,595 [QF Basel]

3 Alexander Zverev 4,400

4 Dominic Thiem 3,725

5 Grigor Dimitrov 3,560

6 Marin Cilic 3,535 [QF Basel]

In contention

7 David Goffin 2,795 [QF Basel]

8 Pablo Carreno Busta 2,605

9 Sam Querrey 2,525

10 Kevin Anderson 2,470

11 Juan Martin del Potro 2,205 [QF Basel]

12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2,100 [QF Vienna]

13 Roberto Bautista Agut 1,925 [QF Basel]

14 Jack Sock, 1,765 [QF Basel]

15 Lucas Pouille, 1,735 [QF Vienna]

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