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By Alberto Amalfi | Thursday, May 18, 2017

Juan Martin del Potro

"I'm beating good guys, I'm playing well, and I think my game can still improving week by week," said Juan Martin del Potro.

Photo credit: Zimbio

Clay isn’t Juan Martin del Potro’s favorite surface.

Del Potro is embracing the challenge and quickly finding his footing on Rome’s red clay.

Watch: 5 Reasons Rafael Nadal Will Win Roland Garros

Firing his forehand into the corners with conviction, Del Potro powered past Kei Nishikori, 7-6 (4), 6-3, to reach the Rome quarterfinals for the first time since 2009 when he lost to then world No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

Coincidentally, del Potro will face Djokovic in tomorrow’s quarterfinal that’s a rematch of their epic Olympic clash in Rio last summer.

Playing just his fourth match of the year on clay, del Potro defeated Nishikori for the fifth time in six meetings.

“I think I'm playing better, for sure,” del Potro told the media in Rome. “Last year I was trying to win couple of matches in this moment of the year, and now I'm beating good guys, I'm playing well, and I think my game can still improving week by week.

"It's going to be a big challenge to me playing three tournaments on clay in a row after many years, so I think I have many things positive to think.”

It was del Potro’s first Top 10 win since he defeated Marin Cilic last year helping lead Argentina to its first Davis Cup championship.

The 2009 US Open champion and Roland Garros semifinalist scored his first Top 10 win on a clay court since he stopped then world No. 7 Tomas Berdych in the 2012 Roland Garros fourth round.

Hammering heavy forehands, del Potro banged his with through the tie break.

Slashing an apparent ace down the middle in the opening game of the second set, del Potro paused as the serve was called out. The chair umpire came down to check the mark, ruling it good. Del Potro sought a hug from the ump, but settled for a high-give prompting a roar from fans. 

Trying to find the 6’6” Argentine’s weaker backhand wing, Nishikori was forced to squeeze shots closer to the lines. Errors ensued as del Potro surged to a 4-1 second-set lead.

Del Potro slipped trying to change direction and fell flat on his stomach in the eighth game. A distracted Nishikori missed a wide-open court as del Potro earned match point.

The crowd erupted in a premature celebration as del Potro narrowly missed a running forehand pass down the line. Nishikori held forcing the world No. 34 to serve it out.

Del Potro drilled his eighth ace down the middle, closing in one hour, 54 minutes.

Though clay won't supplant hard or grass courts as del Potro's preferred surface, he believes he's comfortable enough on the dirt to do damage.  

"I like to play on grass a lot. I make good results in the last years," del Potro said. "But I like clay, too. But I need time to adapt all my game on this surface. I made good results in the past. I made semifinals at the French Open one year, and I made semis in Madrid, quarters in Rome, so I won couple of tournaments on clay.

"I always play good tennis in this surface, but if I had to take one, I keep taking hard or grass."


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