By Dave Gertler
(January 14, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro has come from behind in his second-round match at the Apia International, to usurp top seed Italian Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Wednesday. The Argentine world No. 338 – who last year was ranked No. 5 in the world when he beat Bernard Tomic in the Sydney final – hadn’t played a match since Dubai in February 2014 before he faced his first-round opponent on Tuesday.
“I feel better on the court,” said Del Potro, “Especially in the end of the match. I serve well, I hit good forehands, and my backhands improved from yesterday to this match a little bit.”
On Wednesday, Del Potro faced an initial onslaught from world No. 18 Fognini who broke Del Potro twice in the first set, taking it 6-4. Del Potro found his range toward the end of the second set, again relying on his main weapons, his serve and forehand, to maintain pressure on Fognini’s game, breaking Fognini four more times to win the second and third sets 6-2, 6-2.
As far as adding his aggressive backhand back into his arsenal, Del Potro isn’t rushing anything, saying, “My game is serve strong and hit and try to make winners with my forehand. If my backhand is OK, I will be aggressive too with my backhand in the future. But now I think I have to put it on court, just to hit the ball as better I can, and don’t try to make winners with my backhand at this moment. I just need to play a lot of backhands during the point, and if I do that, I will get confidence very soon to play aggressive as well.”
A dip in form by the mercurial Fognini in the latter half of the match contributed to Del Potro’s from-behind win, but Del Potro’s serve and service percentage got better as the match wore on. In the second set, he only dropped one point behind his first serve, and in the final set his first serve percentage was 78%, winning 12 of 15 points behind it.
Del Potro will face Mikhail Kukushkin in the quarter-finals on Thursday, and indicated he would be physically ready. “My wrist is the same,” said Del Potro, “It’s not getting worse, so I have confidence with that. Of course I’m very happy to beat my first top 20 player on the year.”
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .