NEW YORK—Juan Martin del Potro opened the match with a break and closed it with a blast.
Del Potro unleashed one final jolting shot, erupted in a primal scream, and pumped his fists furiously in celebrating a long day’s journey into the second round with a grueling, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez that spanned four hours and 13 minutes.
It was a wonder del Potro still had enough energy to emote after a gripping, day-long drama that started shortly after 1 p.m. and did not end until about 9:20.
The first meeting between the pair was an adventure, featuring rain interruptions, multiple treatments from the trainer for Garcia-Lopez, a brief verbal exchange between the pair during a fourth-set changeover, and some blistering shotmaking from both men.
It began rather innocuously, with del Potro breaking at love and streaking through the first set in 38 minutes. The plot began to twist in the second set as del Potro earned five break points, but Garcia-Lopez raised his resistance on each occasion. Holding a 4-3 lead in the second set, del Potro had three break points, but could not find the finishing shot. Empowered, the 74th-ranked Spaniard gained the groove on his forehand, cracking a winner cross-court for a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, extending it to 5-2 with an ace and seizing the 70-minute set when del Potro’s backhand strayed long.
Watching del Potro ratchet up his swing speed and strike his forehand with vicious intent recalls the Andre Agassi adage that elite players “don’t hit as hard as they can, they hit as hard as they need to.” Del Potro seemed to take some of his biggest rips when it mattered most—23 of his 52 winners came off the forehand—and he used that shot to draw an error, breaking for a 3-2 third-set lead as Garcia-Lopez took a medical time out for treatment for a left thigh injury. Rain began to fall again about 7:50 p.m., prompting tournament referee Brian Earley to appear with Del Potro about to serve for set at 5-4. When play resumed, Del Potro flattened out a forehand winner to close the 74-minute set as Garcia-Lopez limped to his court-side seat and requested the trainer again.
Watching the grit Garcia-Lopez displayed, it’s baffling he went winless in three prior Grand Slam tournaments this season. The former world No. 23 hit some fine running forehands, saved four of 13 break points, and was sprinting and skidding across the court despite the leg injury. When del Potro double-faulted, Garcia-Lopez had his first break and a 3-1 fourth-set lead nearly seven-and-a-half hours after the match began. He fought off a break point to hold for 4-1, then summoned the trainer again.
At that point, Del Potro, pointing to his opponent, questioned the amount of treatment Garcia-Lopez was entitled to take. The Spaniard stood up to explain himself, and then they got right back to work. Three massive forehands from Del Potro, who accompanied each shot with a deep grunt, powered him to break back for 3-4.
But Garcia-Lopez wasn't done yet. He fought off three match points in the fourth-set breaker before del Potro followed a biting serve with a blistering forehand winner for a fourth match point. The 2009 U.S. Open champion finally closed the show with a scream.
IBM Stat of the Match: Del Potro won 20 of his 21 service games and 26 of 29 trips to net.
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