Juan Martin del Potro is eyeing a move up the rankings this clay season, which he will kick off by competing at the Mutua Madrid Open this week.
Appearing at the tournament for the first time in two years, Del Potro hasn’t played a singles match since his Miami semi-final exit in late March. He lost his doubles clash, alongside Dominic Thiem, in Madrid on Monday against Pablo Cuevas and Marcel Granollers.
The Argentine world No. 6 took a five-week break after John Isner ended his 15-match winning streak at the Miami Open and many people speculated that Del Potro might opt out of the clay season this year in order to preserve his injury-prone body.
But it seems that time off only fueled him to get back to the tennis court, where he hopes to do better on the red dirt compared to an average performance on the surface last year.
“The last weeks were great to me. I been at home for a while, spending good time with friends, family. Also training to be ready for these tournaments. We decided to come here maybe couple of weeks ago when I got good feelings on the clay court,” Del Potro told reporters in Madrid, where he is seeded No. 4 and had a bye in the first round.
“I’m still thinking it’s a good opportunity for me to keep growing up in the ranking maybe and keep doing well. But I know how tough is this tournament for me. But anyways, I’m happy to be back on Madrid after a long time.”
Del Potro begins his campaign at the Caja Magica on Tuesday against Bosnian Damir Dzumhur (not before 22:00 Dubai time on beIN Sports).
The 29-year-old returned to the top-10 earlier this year, for the first time since 2014, and he has already picked up titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells – which was his maiden triumph at the Masters 1000 level.
The 2009 US Open champion has enjoyed most of his success on hard courts, but he is no push-over on clay, with his winning record on the surface being the seventh-highest among active players (71 per cent).
Asked if that fact surprises him, Del Potro said: “Yes, a little bit. Well, I started to play tennis on clay court, so I know how the game is. But I’m getting older, too.
“Anyways, I like to play Madrid. Here the conditions for play are good. We have altitude. The ball go fast. The server players has chance to win here because these conditions. So it could be a good opportunity to me.”
Four of Del Potro’s 22 career titles have come on clay, and he’ll be looking to add to that over the next few weeks in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.
His appearance in the Spanish capital came in 2009 and 2012 when he made the semi-finals and he owns a 14-6 win-loss record at the tournament overall.
Malek Jaziri hopes his run to a maiden tour final in Istanbul can inspire other Arab players and he insists he’ll work harder to try and claim a first ATP trophy following his defeat to Taro Daniel on Sunday.
The Tunisian was looking to become the first Arab since Younes El Aynaoui in 2002 to win an ATP crown but fell short against the 114th-ranked Daniel, who wrapped up a hard-fought 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Jaziri in two hours and 22 minutes.
Daniel, who had never played in an ATP semi-final prior to Istanbul, saved set points in the opening set and upped his game in the second to secure his first tour title.
At 34, Jaziri is the first Arab since El Aynaoui in 2003 to feature in an ATP final and despite his defeat, he feels his good form in Turkey, that saw him take out world No. 4 Marin Cilic, will give him confidence moving forward.
“It’s good for me, for my country, for the Arab players, that they can believe that they can achieve as well, they can arrive to this level. If I did it, they can do it as well,” said Jaziri, who will return to No. 62 in the world on Monday.
“Mentally it’s not easy but you have to work, you work harder, you can make it. Age is not important.
“Believe in yourself, work, and be patient. Success will come, one day it will be yours. If you believe and put everything together to make it, one day you will make it. Nobody believed in me in the beginning but I made it and I arrived where I wanted to arrive and hopefully I will arrive where I want in the future. I’ll keep believing in myself and in what I’m doing.”
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) May 6, 2018
Daniel, who shocked Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells in March, had won just six matches at all levels since last October prior to his title run in Istanbul.
“I was feeling pretty nervous before the match,” Daniel was quoted as saying by ATPWorldTour.com.
“I was nervous, but I told myself, ‘I’m sure he’s more nervous than me.’ So that helped. When I started not badly… I started to calm down a bit more.”
The Japanese will rise to a career-high ranking of No. 82 on Monday.
Jaziri, who next competes in Rome, which starts on Monday May 14, is already looking ahead.
“I was playing good the past few weeks. I was winning a lot of matches. I will take the positive things from this week. I played very good, I beat some good guys, I beat a top-five player. I really wanted so much to win this tournament in Istanbul, but life is like this, it was not my day. Elhamdolillah [Thank God], you take what you take, if it’s not yours, you don’t take it,” said the Tunisian.
Maria Sharapova was pleased to put an end to her four-match losing streak as the Russian eased past an exhausted Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-4, 6-1 to make the Madrid Open second round on Sunday.
Buzarnescu had a quick turnaround having played and lost the final in Prague on Saturday to Petra Kvitova and fell to Sharapova in 82 minutes on Estadio Arantxa Sanchez.
Sharapova, who came to Madrid with a mediocre 5-5 win-loss record this season, is ranked 53 in the world and hadn’t won a match since the Australian Open in January.
Pain in her forearm affected her form, and she lost her opening matches in Doha, Indian Wells and Stuttgart over the past couple of months.
The former world No. 1, who won the Madrid title in 2014, is still on the comeback trail, a year on from her return from a 15-month doping ban.
Last year, Sharapova wasn’t ranked high enough to make it into the French Open main draw and was in Madrid amid lots of suspense about whether organisers would grant her a wildcard. They ultimately denied her the opportunity to compete in Paris, a Slam she has won twice in her career.
This year, Sharapova is in the Roland Garros main draw by virtue of her ranking, and the commotion around her return from suspension has quietened down.
“You have to find the relevance to what you do. You have to put things in perspective. But you also have to want it,” Sharapova told reporters at the Caja Magica on Sunday.
“Of course, I want to be playing the French Open. That uncertainty was difficult. But knowing that I’m going to be in the draw, of course if I’m healthy and ready to compete, but I have to work for those opportunities. I realise that. I realise that I start from the very bottom. I’m okay with it.”
— WTA (@WTA) May 6, 2018
Sharapova admits her press conferences are not as packed at that first one in Stuttgart last year when she made her return to competition but says her focus on the task at hand never waned from the moment she got back to action.
Still, her day-to-day rhythm on tour must have changed as she has gone from someone who typically made it deep at tournaments and contested five to six matches in back-to-back weeks to a player who would lose an opening clash and wait another week to compete again.
“If you’re asking me if I want to be losing early in a tournament and then withdrawing from a tournament while being injured and not competing for three or four weeks, then no, that’s definitely not what I expect, and that’s definitely not what I want to be doing,” said Sharapova when asked about how she’s been handling that change of pace.
“Do I want to be ranked 60, 70 in the world? No, I don’t. Do I want to be losing first round? Absolutely not. That’s why I’m still here, is because I’m not satisfied with those things and because I keep looking and getting better and working on things, making adjustments, not being stubborn on things that I believe will make me better.
“That’s really what I can do for myself in my career, just like everybody else, no matter what their career is. Mine just happens to be in front of thousands of people. The losses are a little bit tougher, on a different level.
“But we all face the same vulnerabilities, sometimes the same success, sometimes the same losses, whether it’s personal, professional.
“No, those are situations I don’t want to be in. I don’t want to wait 10 days to play another match. I’m a competitor. I want to go out and I want to improve and get better.”
Next for Sharapova is another Romanian, Irina-Camelia Begu, who took out seventh-seeded French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Kvitova brushed off fatigue and crushed Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-2 in the Madrid first round, less than 30 hours after she had won the title in Prague.
The Czech No. 10 seed finally has a day off on Monday before taking on Monica Puig in the second round on Tuesday.