Is Del Potro Nadal’s Nemesis?

For you Fedfanatics out there who is still feeling a bit sad about Roger’s loss and Rafa’s victory at the US Open, the above video is guaranteed to cheer you up. It is the highlights of last year’s US Open semi-final where Del Potro destroyed Rafa 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Rafa has suffered some serious beat downs in grand slams over the years, including the losses to Tsonga and Gonzalez at the Australian Open. But this has to be the worst beat down. With all due respect to Rafa, this is just a beautiful sight. In my last post I referred to the fact that Djokovic couldn’t keep up the attacking play which saw him win the second set. In the third set Rafa lifted his game and that was the end of Djokovic. He had the momentum going into the third set but allowed Rafa to take right it back. That happens with 99% of opponents who face Rafa.

Most opponents of Rafa either get scared when Rafa starts raising his game and pumping his fist, or they don’t have the game to hang with him. Neither of these are problems for Del Potro. He has a massive game and a massive mental strength to go with it. I swear if this guy didn’t get injured so much he would had a shot at becoming the GOAT. He still may have. The only surface he has problems on his grass, although I’m sure he can learn to play on it. He has everything that is needed to be good on grass. It may just be a problem with his movement on grass which can be fixed. He is devastating on all hard courts, including fast, slow, and indoors. He is also very good on clay. One of the biggest disappointments in tennis this year for me has been Del Potro’s absence. By the end of last year he was ready to take the tennis world by storm after winning his first slam.

But then sadly he started having problems with his wrist which put him out of the game for a long time. He is now about ready to come back I think, but it will obviously take some time for him to scale his previous heights again. Of course this is not necessarily a good thing for Roger, but I’m more interested in his rivalry with Rafa. The way Rafa is going right now it his hard to see anyone stop him from winning many more slams. There just isn’t anyone with a big enough game and a strong enough mentality. There are guys like Berdych and Soderling with big enough games, but Rafa can still beat them at will since they lack mental strength. Rafa will always be vulnerable to these big hitters with their big serves and flat ground strokes, especially on the faster surfaces. But if they lack mental strength then he still finds ways to beat them.

If Del Potro recovers from his injuries and doesn’t get injured too much in the future, I think he could become Rafa’s nemesis like Rafa is Roger’s nemesis. He has it all. He has a big serve to put Rafa on the defense right away. He has the biggest forehand in the history of tennis. He has a very solid two-handed backhand which means Rafa can’t exploit that side like he can against Roger. He also has very competent volleys. I mean the guy is pretty much complete. And then of course he knows no such thing as fear. If you look at the above video you will see that on a few occasions Rafa hits an important shot and then he does the whole fist pump thing to try and send his opponent a message that he is coming back. Against most opponents this would do the trick, and frankly I’m a bit sick of seeing player after player getting intimidated by Rafa.

Del Potro on the other doesn’t even seem to notice it. He just keeps pounding serves and blasting winners from the base line. This is how you beat Rafa. If you have the smallest amount of fear Rafa will smell it like a predator and move in for the kill. It is quite incredible how Del Potro just keeps smacking winner after winner in that third set, completely unnerved by Rafa’s attempts to get back into the match. Now that is a tennis player I both respect and like. There is no doubt that Rafa is a better and more complete player this year than he was last year. He got a bigger serve and came off two slam titles this year. But there is also no doubt to me that Del Potro would have beaten him anyway had they faced at the US Open this year. He is not a good match up for Rafa, and I won’t be surprised of he keep giving Rafa a headache in the future.

Del Potro didn’t exactly get off to the ideal start against Rafa, losing the first four matches. But he only hit his stride round about the French Open last year, and since then beat Rafa three straight times. If Del Potro gets back to full health and confidence I think this trend may continue. So like I said, I don’t see anyone who can really stop Rafa right now. He is too tough a match up for Roger and the demons from the past will be hard to exorcise. Roger needs someone who can stop Rafa from winning slams at will from now on, or Rafa my catch up with him in slam titles in the next few years. I’m not counting Roger out by the way. I think he is making a new beginning with Annacone now and in time he may be able to improve his tactics enough to beat Rafa again. But he needs some extra insurance, and Del Potro might just be it.

What I like about Del Potro is that he is also a very humble and likable guy like Roger. He has great admiration for Roger and the two seems to get on well. After that amazing French Open semi-final last year you could see the respect for each other at the net, and at the US Open when Del Potro turned the result around Roger didn’t look very disappointed at all. I look forward to see what the Del Fed team can do in the future to stop Rafa.

Is Del Potro Rafa's nemesis if he remains healthy?

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Roger Federer


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22 Comments

  1. I was out of town for the last week and a half and had no Internet access, hence the volume of posts. (I did get the news, though).

    There is something about Del Potro’s game that matches well against Nadal. He feeds off of a consistent baseline rhythm and that’s just what Nadal gives him. The longer he plays against Nadal, the stronger he gets. This is in contrast to almost anyone else.

    I was watching the match they played at Miami last year. You could see Del Potro slowly learning the feel of Nadal’s shots. In the middle of the match he was being too cautious and leaving the ball short for Nadal to counterattack. But by the end he had found his rhythm and was hitting a lot harder.

    In the third set, Nadal saved multiple match points, but in the breaker they played a long rally, something like thirty or forty shots. Any other player would have made an error in the face of Nadal’s machinelike consistency, but Del Potro struck a clean forehand winner to get the mini-break. That ultimately decided the match.

    Despite all his improvements, the core of Nadal’s game is to wait for his opponent to make a mistake. In the important points of a match, he will return to type and engage in a long rally, hoping to outlast his opponent. Usually he will do so, break his opponent’s spirit, and go on to roll. But that doesn’t seem to happen with Del Potro.

    Like you said he has a very likable personality. After losing to Federer at the French Open, he said “My ambition is to be the idol of the crowd like Roger was today.” That really endeared him to me; not just because he wanted to emulate Federer, but because he was so straightforward and expressed it so sweetly and simply.

    He has a dry, laid-back sense of humor too; when he won the USO, someone asked him what he wanted to buy with the prize money, and he replied “I don’t know, maybe some cheesecake for my birthday.”

    Anyhow I really like him and his attitude, and I hope he can come back strong next year.

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  2. I agree with you that Del Potro is the anti- rafa.

    sure rafa increased his serve speed and has improved enough on the hard court, but i don’t think he has very many weapons that can hurt del potro

    the only weapon that would work would be the slice backhand, but rafa has to a). make it sharp and low and b). make it go towards delpo’s forehand

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  3. I think people, especially Nadal fans, are way too quick to class Del Potro with more standard power hitters like Berdych or Soderling. Those guys are upset artists, they can beat the best players in the early rounds, but don’t have enough mentally to actually win a Grand Slam.

    Del Potro is really in a class by himself. He is a champion and has the champion’s mentality and heart that is so sadly lacking in Djokovic and Murray. He’s proven his quality by beating Federer and Nadal back-to-back in a major, which no one else has ever done.

    One of Del Potro’s favorite players to watch as a kid was Lleyton Hewitt. It’s weird because their games are so totally opposite: Del Potro has a big power game, Hewitt an ultra-defensive one. Then again, Del Potro does have a great lob (being so tall, he can even return serve with a lob, which he did to Federer a few times at RG), so maybe he did learn something from Hewitt.

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  4. I am not sure this is the right post to reply to but I would like to reflect on both the rafa/del potro and rafa/novak matches.

    First here is my mindset so you know from which bases I come from :
    – I am a Rafa fan first and for most. He is my favorite player and most likely will always be.
    – I agree with Rafa that Federer is still the Greatest. Not only because he has more GS titles but also because I too think that, at his prime, he has the most talented effortless game ever.
    why I am a Rafa fan then? I have my point of view but this is not what the subject of the post about.

    Now onto Del potro/Rafa : Del potro has one of the scariest forehands. He is not afraid to face any opponent neither Rafa nor Federer for that matter. But, I am not sure that at that point in Rafa’s career where he has been playing if not the worst(that was WTF), then lets say no where near his best + an ab injury is the perfect moment to reflect on their matching against each other. I will not speak about the improved serve cause we didnt see its impact in a matchup between them but I will speak about the defense in that clip of points. Rafa hit every defensive shot right back at del potro. even when aggressive at the net, each volley was hit right back at del potro’s hand. I will not take away from del potro’s forehand winners , they were great. I am just making a mere observation upon watching on how on numerous points I kept thinking this is not how Rafa would play it now. Is Del potro not a threat then? Of course he is and I am looking forward to their next meeting but I am just saying it is not a done deal beatdown from now on !!

    Now onto USO final, what I do not get is how Nole choked his progress away in that final. I watched every break of serve in that match coming from Nole or Rafa right until the beginning of 4th set, each one was forced by the opponent who simply upped his level to break. Nole fought back a break in the first, Broke in the second. It was evened afterwards but that was because Rafa played a great game then .. He came out of rain delay with 30 all game and he fired winner after winner to take the set, that is not the work of a choking man. Again the break in the third? I want you to watch it and tell me it was a give away and not a well deserved one.

    Nole had 45 winner in that match in 4 sets, as opposed to 36 in the 5 set semi against Federer .. or as opposed to Del potro’s 33 in the beat down of Rafa .. the difference ? Rafa had 48 winners as opposed to 19 in the del potro match. I am not here actually to explain how Rafa is great now, rather to just state my opinion that the match was of a very high quality from both guys. I compare it to the semi and I see a match where Nole gave Roger 2 sets and Roger repayed the debt with his own 61 62 and they only fought for it in the 5th. While in the finals match, each of them kept fighting and firing winners swinging momentum between them in the process .. no give aways just pure level raising with each momentum swing. So to sum it up I am just giving the guys what I think is their due respect for their play in the final

    Thnks

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    Ru-an Reply:

    It was a great final i agree. I guess you can say Rafa just played to well in the end, but there is always a mental aspect as well and imo Nole gave the momentum back to Rafa too soon after the second set. He just didnt show enough belief to win. He stopped playing attacking tennis and changing things up. You dont see these kind of mental lapses from Del Potro, which he why he is a real problem for Rafa. He is relentless in his attacking tennis and puts you under constant pressure. Of courser Rafa was not at his best last year, but i dont think he played so much better this year that he would have beaten Del Potro. 2, 2, and 2 is just too big a beat down to just turn it around like that.

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    reem Reply:

    The next comment was meant to be a reply to you not a separate comment, apologies

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  5. I dont know if Rafa could turn it around or not to be honest…

    My point is it took Djokovic 17 winners, 7 UFE & 13UFE from Rafa(40% of his overall errors. i.e he has his worst in that set) to take a set in the final .. Those are huge numbers to maintain .. it would require a level of 51 winners/21 UFE to take Rafa out in straight sets .. That is not a let go of momentum from Djokovic in the rest of the match. That is just plain insane if he could do, I would give him the trophy pleasantly and consider him a freak.

    Compare this to the 33/28 of delpotro vs 19/27 from Rafa to get his 62, two and two.

    For sure you can tell where I am going with this .. It is just too much to ask of someone to play at that level persistently, and for him to keep Rafa tamed to be as bad as in the delpotro opposed to his 48/32 in this final .. even for an attacker like Delpotro ..

    He remains to be a great threat I agree, Rafa still has a large margin to improve his game specifically on the return and BP conversion if he wants to beat del potro ..

    But for me, it is just a battle I will enjoy watching between those guys and I have no idea who will come up ahead. But one thing I know is that I will enjoy watching Rafa attempting to improve when/if he gets beaten

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I see what youre saying. Djokovic could only keep his high level for a set while Rafa could keep it up for the match. But i never said he could take Rafa out in straight sets. He could do it in 5 if he showed more belief. This is where Del Potro is a cut above. He actually beat Rafa and Roger to win a slam while Djokovic only beat monoFed to win the AO.

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  6. I agree that Del Potro will likely be No. 1 some day. I guess I just don’t really see anything to celebrate about that. I guess what I’ve always loved about tennis is that it’s a game for more or less average-sized people. Great athletes and movers who are somewhere around 6’0, 6’1, whatever. I don’t know. The idea of a guy 6’6 just raining down aces and blasting flat ground strokes just doesn’t appeal at all. He might be the anti-Nadal in terms of having the game to beat Rafa, but he’d also be the anti-Federer too, in my opinion. All the beauty that we’ve witnessed over the past 7 years could be replaced by the brutal, brutal effectiveness of Del Potro’s monstrous game.

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    steve Reply:

    Federer is far better equipped to handle Del Potro than Nadal. Last year Del Potro rolled over Nadal in straight sets without being broken and breaking Nadal twice in each set, but he required five sets to beat Federer, was broken five times, and busted his wrist running all of Federer’s shots down.

    Fast aggressive players who consistently hit flat and deep–guys like Davydenko and Blake, or players who vary the pace and spin all the time–guys like Murray–give Del Potro problems. But Nadal is not of those types.

    Nadal is perfect defense, but Del Potro is perfect offense. His rally shots are as powerful as other people’s winners, and as for his winners, no one can get those shots back into play, not even Nadal. Nadal is like a brick wall, he’ll stop ordinary hammer blows. But Del Potro is like a wrecking ball.

    The only way to beat him is to play preemptive tennis to limit his options: tie him up, wrong-foot him, and keep him from using his immense power to hit through the court. Federer can do this, he has done it (AO 2009), and can do it again.

    His victory over Soderling at USO was a good preview of how he’d have to play Del Potro, mixing up the pace of his groundstrokes to deny his opponent rhythm, using the drop shot, coming forward, and bringing the opponent to net. Of course Del Potro’s game is superior to Soderling’s, but the essence of the strategy is the same.

    Given a little more time to refine his tactics and get more comfortable with his adjustments, he should be ready for Del Potro.

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    David Reply:

    I agree, but the problem is that Roger’s getting older and his big titles are going to be less and less frequent. The idea of watching Del Potro take over the sport is depressing. I’d rather see Nadal, Murray and Djokovic share the titles than some 6’6 goliath who I wish had taken up basketball instead. But hey, that’s just me.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thats a good point David. I dont necessarily like that game so much either. I just like to see it against Rafa. I also like Del Potro’s mental strength.

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  7. By the way, I should add that if Del Potro does become king of the tennis world, the video Ru-An’s going to have to post is the one from the 2009 Australian Open, the ULTIMATE example of style, skill and artistry winning out over (forget that, absolutely dismantling) brute force.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Lol. Yeah that was a good old beating but lets face it Del Potro wasnt near his best yet there. The semis of the FO 09 was where he came of age in my book. You wont ever see a beat down over Del Potro like the AO 09 again.

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  8. I´m nt looking for a rival to beat Nadal.Roger with his
    best tennis has to beat Nadal.Please being a Roger´s fan you can say Delpo is likable as Roger is.Roger is unique.Sorry to disappoint the hopes of his “mental
    strenght”but he has been depressed and with panic attack after winnig his first USO.And then his wrist surgery is true too.I hope for a healthy come back even
    though I will never like his tennis with ground strokes.
    I couldn´t get over Roger´s loss yet, still feeling blue.

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  9. I don’t think Del Potro is anti-Nadal. First of all Nadal has a great ability about solving puzzles. A few years ago Berdcyh and Blake looked like they were Nadal’s nemesis. But Nadal somehow found ways to beat them. When Tsonga downed Nadal in Australian Open everyone was excited, or when Sodeling beat Nadal on RG but neither of these players could beat Nadal like the way they did later.
    Secondly, Del Potro is a gerat player but he has his weaknesses. First of all he was not that fit even when he was playing at his best. In 2009 US Open his match against Cilic and his other 2 matches were totally different. If it didn’t rained that year,he wouldn’t take a rest for 2 days and he could still beat Nadal but definetaly lose to Federer in the final. It’s a shame for Federer. Secondly, Del Potro can not handle slices. When the ball he hits is lower than his knee level, he either makes an unforced error or a very ineffective shot. Players like Cilic and Anderson are more quick and flexible so they can handle those shots better, but not Del Potro. This is why he was never able to beat Murray on hardcourts if i’m not wrong (and maybe thats the reason why Nadal watched Murray-Del
    Potro match closely in the latest World Tour Finals). Murray keeps slicing and lowering the balls untill he draws an unforced error or a benefical shot from Del Potro.

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  10. Hi Ruan. Let me say I enjoy your musings. I’m not a fan of Fed, btw.

    Juan Martin may or may not be Nadal’s nemesis, I think that remains to be seen. I’d just like to remind you that one could have written Tsonga was Nadal’s nemesis in early 08, Soderling could have been that character in 09, and Berdych could have been added to the mix too. Maybe even Youhzny in 07.

    I believe the commies mentioned that Rafa has never lost to *anyone* four times in a row. Ever. I think it may take him a while to figure out a game plan to best his ‘nemesis of the day’, but he generally does find a way.

    I tend to chuckle a bit when these guys’ names get dropped, since they were fellows who have been known to put the beat-down on Rafa once or twice.

    Rafa, as a teen, once said to his uncle, that he would make sure any opponent who bested him would remember how difficult it was to beat him.

    That being said, Del Potro is a big, scary good player – let’s see if Rafa can figure out his buddy Juan Martin.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks marron. All good points.

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  11. Neither Tsonga nor Soderling won the tournament after they upset Nadal in a Grand Slam. Del Potro did–and he was able to twice come back from a set down in the final against Federer, something which not even Nadal has done.

    Like I said, many Nadal fans underrate Del Potro because they believe in the myth that Nadal can’t lose unless he’s injured and they want to believe he’s absolutely invincible.

    You cannot class Del Potro with the Berdychs or Blakes or Soderlings or other very-good-but-not-great players. Those guys can get hot for a match or two but they can’t go all the way.

    He is a Grand Slam champion, and he managed to win by beating Federer and Nadal back-to-back, and that means he is as tough a customer as they come. He is a truly great player, and will win many majors.

    As for slices, there are slices and then there are slices. Del Potro’s game is more complete than a Berdych. He has a decent slice himself and he knows how to deal with ordinary slices. You have to hit a deep, biting slice with great accuracy to bother him, and you can’t just do it once or twice, you have to do it the whole match. And you have to mix it up in other ways too. One tactic isn’t enough, he’ll catch on and start to read it. You need three, maybe four different tactics to beat him. This is a tall order for Nadal to fill.

    I don’t believe Nadal can mix it up the way Murray can. If he could he would beat Murray more often on hardcourts. But he just can’t do it that consistently, not without making mistakes himself. It’s his particular limitation.

    Everyone has an antithesis, someone who’s specifically designed to beat them. It’s natural. Federer has Nadal, and Nadal has Del Potro.

    Borg went for years when he seemed unstoppable, then McEnroe came along and figured him out. It happens to everyone, Nadal’s no exception.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, everyone has an antithesis and i think Del Potro is Rafa’s. Rafa is not as dominant as Roger was in his prime and never will be.

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  12. Nadal’s game is basically built on great counterattacking.
    Del Potro is the Nadal-killing machine.
    His speed game is too fast for Nadal’s usual method of running down the ball and putting it down the line.
    His game never lets Nadal construct his points, and he has an intuitive ability to anticipate what Nadal can and cannot do, unlike most other players who are in control and lose it because of Nadal’s running a ball down to hit a winner. His game actually allows him to construct points which Nadal has no answer to.
    I do anticipate a great rivalry in the making.

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  13. I have read a lot of reviews about why Del Potro is Nadal’s nemesis or the anti Nadal, but let’s see what happens when both are at 100%. Only time will tell, but as long as Rafa continues to improve (bigger second serve, flatter forehand) on hard courts, i can guarantee that there will be no beatdown like the US open yes their matches may extend to best of (3 sets, 5 sets) and may the best man win then but Rafa in 2009 was not the same player in 2010. Period. So losing to Del Potro 3 times in 2009 does not count for much, by the way it isn’t that easy to return a lefty 132 – 135 mph first serve or hit winners against a fit Rafa.

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