Although Del Potro fell tamely to Nadal in the Roland Garros semi-finals five weeks ago, grass is a whole different ball game.
Del Potro overcame Gilles Simon in a two-day match that was suspended for darkness on Monday with the Argentine leading by two-sets-to-one, and it was resumed on Tuesday. The fifth-seeded Del Potro was pushed to his limits by Simon but ultimately came through 7-6(1), 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5).
Del Potro will face off with Nadal in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, in what will be their first grass-court showdown since 2011, which, incidentally, was the last time the Spaniard had made it this far at Wimbledon.
Nadal is 2-0 head-to-head against Del Potro on grass, 10-5 overall.
But such numbers won’t matter much on Wednesday, with Nadal knowing all too well how dangerous his opponent can be, especially with a monster serve that has given Del Potro 69 aces so far this tournament, compared to Nadal’s 22.
“He always has a chance,” Simon told reporters of Del Potro’s threat level for Nadal.
“He already beat him. He was able to beat all the top guys. That’s why also many people like to watch him play, because you feel something can happen. He has a lot of strengths in his game.”
Simon is spot on. The reason people will always look forward to a match between Del Potro and a member of the ‘Big Four’ is that you never know who will win, which is rarely the case for these players against the majority of the field.
Del Potro’s best Wimbledon performance came in 2013 when he reached the semi-finals, and he also won Olympic bronze at the All England Club in 2012.
This fortnight, he was won 81 per cent of his first-serve points, has been broken eight times and has been broken just once, by Simon in the fourth round.
The 29-year-old returned to the top-four in the world rankings last month, for the first time since 2014, and has made the quarter-finals in three of his last four majors. He was stopped by Nadal in the 2017 US Open semis and the French Open semis, with the Mallorcan going on to win both tournaments. Del Potro will attempt to leave with a different outcome this time around.
“It will be a different match that we played in Paris few weeks ago. I will try to hold my service games most of the time. If I want to beat him, I have to come to the net very often and play hard with my forehands, with my backhands, and try to take all the chances,” said Del Potro on Tuesday.
Of course playing for three consecutive days won’t help Del Potro’s cause, especially that his fourth round against Simon lasted 4h 14 min.
Nadal enters the match carrying a 16-match winning streak and hasn’t dropped a set yet this tournament.
He’s looking to add an 18th Grand Slam title to his trophy cabinet, and close in on Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20.
After making five finals in a row at Wimbledon between 2006 and 2011, the Spaniard has struggled to get back to that position since. His knee troubles hindered his performances on the grass, and he also wasn’t able to find solutions against big-hitters who could blow him off the court.
But he’s back in the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time in seven years and could hit 50 match-wins at the All England Club if he lifts the trophy on Sunday.
“Everybody admires him as a competitor,” says Del Potro of Nadal. “He’s a fighter. He is always trying to be positive and thinking in the next ball. Doesn’t matter if he misses or not. It’s too tough to see a guy in front of the net when they are always positive during the game.”
So many players often say that they prefer that their children do not pursue a career in tennis and Serena Williams is no different. But if her daughter Olympia does take a liking to the sport, Auntie Venus has already volunteered to coach her.
“I would hope she doesn’t play tennis,” said Serena at Wimbledon this week.
“Venus said she would coach her, she just didn’t want to travel. She said that yesterday or the day before, ‘I’ll coach her, but I don’t want to travel’.
“I’m like, ‘Okay, you’re thinking way far in advance’. Olympia is not playing tennis, unless of course she wants to. Then I’m going to help her. But I’m not sure if I’m a great coach. I could be a good mental coach. In terms of a tennis coach, I don’t know if I – clearly I don’t know if I have patience.”
Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion and one of the greatest players in tennis history, is worried about unfair comparisons her daughter would be subjected to if she chooses to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Asked what sports she would like Olympia to play, Serena said: “I don’t know yet. I think it will be interesting to see what she gravitates to. I really don’t know. Ice skating could be fun. She’ll probably be really tall, so… Yeah, I don’t know.
“Tennis is a lot of work. It’s a lot. Plus, I don’t want her to have pressure from what I did, you guys talking about, ‘Are you going to be able to do as good as your mom?’ I don’t want her to have that.”
TO TRUMP OR NOT TO TRUMP
Donald Trump is scheduled to be in the UK this weekend and some American players were asked how they’d feel about having him come and watch their matches at Wimbledon.
Serena and John Isner had opposite reactions.
“He has the right to do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to come to a Wimbledon final, he has that right,” said Serena. “I hope I’ll be there. I don’t know. I still have a lot of matches to win. For me, I can’t even think that far. I’m just thinking one at a time.”
Isner, who faces Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals here on Wednesday, is hoping he makes the semis so he could invite Trump to his match.
“I’d love to have Trump come watch me. That would be awesome. Maybe I’ll tweet at him if I win on Wednesday. I know a lot of people won’t like that, but I don’t care,” said Isner.
Some celebrity visitors have already turned up to take in some tennis, with American pop star Justin Timberlake and his wife, actress Jessica Biel, attending the women’s quarter-finals on Centre Court on Tuesday. R&B singer Drake was also there and when Serena lost her opening set against Camila Giorgi, social media users quickly noted that Drake was there when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-finals in 2015. Lucky for Serena fans, there was no upset by an Italian this time around.
The Australian has not managed to get beyond last-16 of a Grand Slam since making the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in 2015.
On Saturday, Krygios was knocked out by Kei Nishikori in the third round at Wimbledon, after losing 6-1, 7-6, 6-4.
“Nick is part of the next generation and the whole conversation but he will have to step it up,” said Philippoussis.
“He has got all the talent in the world, everyone knows that, but just having talent alone won’t get you there.
“It’s very important to improve other things – to get strong mentally and physically. Those are the two areas he would agree that he needs to improve.
“He needs to get on that pathway where he will be stronger, better and hungrier.”
Philippoussis believes Kyrgios, 23, should see fellow young tennis star Alexander Zverev as a role model.
The German is ranked number three in the world and has eight titles to his name.
“Zverev has the whole package,” added Philippoussis, 41.
“With his mind and work ethic, he’s the one I have my money on.
“Does Nick have the ability and the game? Absolutely. But there are other things.”
Meanwhile, Philippoussis was full of praise for 36-year-old Roger Federer, who is chasing his ninth Wimbledon title.
“It’s incredible that he’s still playing,” said the Australian on the 15th anniversary of his loss to the 20-time major winner in the 2003 Wimbledon final.
“I have so much respect for the guy in that he’s as hungry as ever.
“He wants to keep improving and that’s the sign of a true champion. He is just an incredible inspiration
“When he’s in trouble, he usually has four options. That’s the difference. Some other players may have two options; others just one.”