By the end of Juan Martin del Potro’s 6-0 first set win over Janko Tipsarevic this evening, the only question worth asking seemed to be whether the loser should have bothered showing up at all. Tipsarevic has been sick; he defaulted late in the third set against Jerzy Janowicz in Paris last week due to a virus, and was run off the court by Roger Federer on Tuesday in London. He could have pulled out and let Richard Gasquet play this one. By the start of the second set, the fans at the 02 Arena, who had paid to see this singles match and no other singles match, seemed like they wished he had. Their cries of “Go Janko” sounded half like cheers and half like heckles. Tipsy himself couldn’t blame them. Afterward he said, “I’m playing worse than horrible.”
But while Tipsarevic would lose the second set as well, 6-4, he made it respectable and, for a point or two at least, entertaining. He even seemed to gain energy as he went. At 2-4, he came up with a nice reflex forehand volley to hold, and in the following game made a stab short hop get that dropped neatly into the corner for a winner. At 4-5, when he opened with his best backhand of the day, a crosscourt winner, the crowd was fully behind him. But Tipsy’s next forehand caught the tape and refused to go over. That was as far as he would push, but it was farther than we would have thought a few minutes earlier.
I was curious to see this match mainly because I wanted to see del Potro’s form. He’s coming off a big win over one of his nemeses, Roger Federer, in Basel a couple of weeks ago, but he had succumbed yet again to another, David Ferrer, in his first match in London. While it’s hard to take too much away from today's match, del Potro did have his vintage cannon-shot forehand going from the start, he kept Tipsarevic shuttling from one corner to the other, and he backed up his second serve well—del Potro won 71 percent of those points. He also didn’t lose his concentration, even when he appeared to think that Tipsarevic was going to retire after the first set. And just when Tipsy seemed to be taking heart in the final game, del Potro came up with perhaps his best shot of the night, a flicked backhand down the line for a winner.
That’s how Tipsarevic’s season will end. As for del Potro, if he beats Federer on Saturday, he’ll go through to the semis. In most other scenarios, though, he’ll be eliminated and Ferrer will advance. It’s fitting that del Potro, who has already played Federer seven times this year and lost six of those matches, will have his season come down to one last meeting with the Maestro.