A taste of things to come: del Potro takes on Thiem in NY

By Vivienne Christie on September 7, 2017

Many are expecting a blockbuster as Team World’s Juan Martin del Potro and Team Europe’s Dominic Thiem prepare to meet in the fourth round of the US Open on Monday.

A replay of their highly-touted encounter at the same stage of the 2016 US Open – when Thiem retired through a knee injury – and a pointer to what might unfold at the Laver Cup later this month, it’s also a match-up of two of the biggest names in tennis.

Some fascinating contrasts add to the anticipation.

Del Potro has a deadly forehand and is already a Grand Slam champion; Thiem owns a potent backhand, with a major title yet to be added to his growing record. They’re also separated in age and stature: the 28-year-old del Potro standing 6’6” tall and Thiem, aged 24, five inches shorter.

In capabilities and competitive spirit, though, the players are undeniably similar.

Those qualities have taken each man to the fourth round of the final 2017 Grand Slam with relative ease – del Potro without the loss of a set, Thiem surrendering only one in the second round against Taylor Fritz – and both are powerfully motivated to add to their respective US Open records.

For del Potro, Flushing Meadows is a place of happy memories. In 2009, the then 20-year-old became the first man to defeat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at a major – the latter in a five-set final that also delivered the Argentine with his first Grand Slam title.

Del Potro has twice been a quarterfinalist in four appearances since, providing high points of a career that’s also been shaped by injury. A factor is the massive fan support that the popular champion receives in New York, cries of “Delpo” often echoing throughout Flushing Meadows.

“(It) is (a) very special tournament to me. I’m getting good energy from the crowd in every match, and I’m feeling every day much better with my game,” said del Potro after progressing to the fourth round with a 6-3 6-3 6-4 win over the higher-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut.

Thiem can also consider New York as one of his most important major settings. In 2014, the 21-year-old defeated Feliciano Lopez and Ernests Gulbis to progress to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Into the US Open’s fourth round for the third time in four appearances, the Austrian now has a chance to atone for a disappointing end to 2016, when a right knee problem forced him to retire as del Potro led 6-3 3-2.

This year, Thiem is heartened by his progressive US Open improvements. Recording 39 winners in his latest victory over Adrian Mannarino, the Austrian noted he would need to find yet another level.

“(It) is (a) very special tournament to me. I’m getting good energy from the crowd in every match, and I’m feeling every day much better with my game,” said del Potro after progressing to the fourth round with a 6-3 6-3 6-4 win over the higher-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut.

Thiem can also consider New York as one of his most important major settings. In 2014, the 21-year-old defeated Feliciano Lopez and Ernests Gulbis to progress to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Into the US Open’s fourth round for the third time in four appearances, the Austrian now has a chance to atone for a disappointing end to 2016, when a right knee problem forced him to retire as del Potro led 6-3 3-2.

This year, Thiem is heartened by his progressive US Open improvements. Recording 39 winners in his latest victory over Adrian Mannarino, the Austrian noted he would need to find yet another level.

“I really like the feeling that it’s getting better from match to match,” said Thiem, who has now reached the fourth round of every 2017 major. “It’s necessary to improve a lot for the next round.”

The always-gracious del Potro points out that Thiem – who at world No.8 is ranked 20 places higher – is statistically the more likely victor. “He has everything to win the match. He’s having a great season already. He’s the favorite,” said the Argentine. “But I like to play him. I like to play him in this tournament. Hopefully I can do a good match.”

As the winner of both the pair’s previous encounters, del Potro can be confident. In 2016, a 7-6(5) 6-3 win over Thiem at the Madrid Masters marked an important marker in his comeback from injury. “I’ve had a great test against a very high-level player,” he candidly noted.

Few would dispute that the pair are evenly credentialed: del Potro, as a former champion who finds his best form in New York and Thiem with an ability to outclass any superstar opponent.

Among many fascinated onlookers, none will be more interested than John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, respective captains of the Team World and Team Europe competitors.