Madrid: Del Potro d. Mayer

Tuesday, May 08, 2012 /by

PicMaybe Roger Federer was right after all when he said, a few months back, that the Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling system has taken something from the game—that being a "human factor" embodied in those controversies and arguments between players and umpires.

Well, I don't know about The Game, but the ability to argue with the man in the high chair certainly seemed to help Juan Martin del Potro's game today.

Del Potro was up against Germany's Florian Mayer, and after the giant Argentinian won a close first set, 6-4, he became embroiled in a heated (for Delpo, which is just a bit south of lukewarm) conversation with Carlos Bernardes in the second game of the second set, with Mayer serving. The disagreement revolved around del Potro's desire to get an overrule out of Bernardes after a Mayer approach shot fell on or just beyond the sideline, near the forehand corner. The ball was called good. Bernardes declined to get involved because he thought del Potro's complaint came too late—after the No. 10 seed hit a lob off Mayer's shot to keep the rally going.

The only particulars that matter are that after being denied a replay and having lost that point, del Potro began to play like a hacienda on fire. It was almost as if that peaceable and introspective 6'6" talent actually became. . . angry. Okay, let's settle on "energized." At any rate, somebody had to pay, and as usual, it was the poor schmo across the net.

Del Potro rallied with ferocity and clubbed big forehands left and right to earn to break point at 30-40. Despite a great save of that point by Mayer, del Potro quickly gained another. This time, a mishit forehand by Mayer off a sharp del Potro service return produced the break. Then del Potro ran away with it, blasting his way to a 4-0 lead before he suffered a slight letdown and surrendered a break of serve. He immediately got back on track, though, and cleaned up easily, 6-4, 6-2.

Mayer is an interesting player; I suppose the word that pops right to mind to describe him is "scrapper." He has a really sweet two-handed backhand, even if he is a little too prone to hit the bunny-hop variation of the shot that is so fashionable these days. But that backhand is the only classic aspect of his game. In all other aspects, he looks as if he might have wandered in off a public court.

Mayer's one-handed slice looks like he's trying to sling the racquet like a frisbee, and he keeps his off, left hand on the handle almost until the moment of contact. He also takes an enormous, overhead backswing on his forehand—so big that when he whales on the ball, he appears to be in danger of pitching over onto his back. He has an odd hitch in his service motion. That he's a solid No. 24 is a tribute to how many different ways you can skin a cat in this game—and how little style matters.

In fact, Mayer gave as good as he got in the entire first set, relying on his ability to chase down balls and keep del Potro guessing. But at crunch-time, serving at 4-5, he played a truly hideous game. Del Potro started it off with a forehand winner; another of those brought him to 15-30, upon which Mayer double-faulted for 15-40. Mayer surrendered the next point—and set—meekly after a brief rally, with a backhand error.

Del Potro held the first game of the next set, then got into his altercation with Bernardes. That triggered his determination, along with those flat, whizzing groundstrokes and heavy, punishing serves del Potro is known for, which were just too much for Mayer to handle. 

Style may not matter, but sometimes size still does.

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