Never underestimate the Tower of Tandil. After yet another injury-plagued season, Juan Martin Del Potro defeated David Goffin and Casper Ruud in the same day at the Italian Open Thursday in Rome, showing his right knee was capable of handling the workload. He will now face red-hot Novak Djokovic, who lost just seven total games in his two Thursday matches. Ten years ago, these two met on clay for the first time in the same stage of this very tournament.
The world No. 1 presents a tough matchup for Del Potro. Djokovic is not just unbothered by pace, he relishes it. He turns defense into offense better than anyone in the world, extending points with his unparalleled movement. This means a likely long day at the office for Del Potro, who fell to the Serbian in last year's US Open final.
Additionally, Djokovic's durable two-handed backhand will look to target Del Potro’s weaker side in cross-court exchanges. This should solicit plenty of Del Potro slice replies which will sit up on the slow clay, allowing Djokovic to regain control of the point. Winless in four clay-court meetings with Djokovic, this seems like a task too tall for our game’s beloved gentle giant in his second tournament back.
Naomi Osaka (WTA No. 1, UTR No. 8) vs Kiki Bertens (WTA No. 4, UTR No. 3)
Entering the clay season with self proclaimed “low expectations” world No. 1 Naomi Osaka has enjoyed a successful European swing, going 7-1 (excluding her Stuttgart semifinal retirement against Anett Kontaveit). Now she will get to test her mettle against the WTA's hottest clay-court player in Kiki Bertens. Over the past three seasons, nobody has secured more victories on clay than Bertens.
This match will be a slugfest. Both players generate extreme power off both sides of the ball and move exceptionally well. Bertens will look to capitalize on her service advantage as the WTA's 2019 ace leader. She routinely comes up with aces and unreturned serves when facing break point.
This match will likely come down to fitness. Both Bertens and Osaka played twice on Thursday and will have quick turnarounds before stepping back on court. Bertens has defeated four Top 10 players during the clay swing. Look for the Dutchwoman to make it five with an exciting three-set victory over the top seed.