(October 29, 2012) -- The ATP World Tour might become the sporting world’s Party of Five if Juan Martin del Potro has his way.
If you watched the Olympic quarterfinal between Roger Federer and Del Potro, you could feel something slowly starting to shift in the men’s tennis landscape: No, it wasn’t whispers again that Federer is “over the hill” or that he should take to laying off a nanny or two. Instead, it was all about the Argentine, who, 18 months after returning from his nearly one-year layoff because of a wrist injury, was making his way back into the upper echelon of men’s tennis, making his case to be included among the best of the best.
Is the Big Three suddenly a Party of Five?
While Federer won that match 19-17 in a classic third set, it was Del Potro who would capture the Swiss Indoors Basel this past weekend, beating Federer in front of a home crowd of Sunday in a third set breaker. The Big Three expanded (officially) to the Big Four this past summer at those same Olympics when Andy Murray triumphed in London, the Brit further cementing his spot with Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic by winning the US Open. But now, it’s Del Potro, who won the 2009 US Open, wants to expand tennis’ most exclusive club to five.
In Paris this week, there will be no Rafa (he’s done for the season) and -- announced after his loss to DelPo -- no Mr. Fed. Roger will take the week off to prepare for the World Tour Finals, which now includes the Argentine, who booked his spot in London this past week. So what’s the final Masters event of the year hold for everyone else? Let’s take a look:
While all eyes may be on the 6-foot-6 South American heading into the City of Love, it’s Murray and Djokovic who could put on a reprise of their dramatic Shanghai final at the Paris Masters Series this coming week. Murray drew Federer’s top half of the draw, which is now sans the defending champion after the Swiss man’s withdrawal.
Murray gets the softer half, with a potential quarterfinal against Janko Tipsarevic and Tomas Berdych in the semis. Another seed to watch out for: No. 15 Kei Nishikori, who had that dream run at the Japan Open earlier this fall and is always an outside danger.
While Djokovic is on the bottom half of the draw, he’s no doubt the top dog here after … But he’s got a stiff crew to take on prior to the final: Milos Raonic (third round), Del Potro or John Isner (quarterfinals) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer (semifinals) all stand in his way.
That could-be quaterfinal between Djokovic and Del Potro is a loaded one: both guys bring 10-match winning streaks into Paris (Novak winning Beijing and Shanghai, Del Potro in Vienna and Basel). And although DelPo beat Nole in the Olympic bronze medal match, the Serb exacted some revenge in New York, frustrating his taller opponent in a straight-set win and moving his head-to-head advantage to 6-2 overall.
Is it move over, Murray, this week, then? Hard to tell. But the growing JMDP momentum could face one challenge other than his opponents: fatigue. This is his third tournament in three weeks, with the year-end championships looming in London in just seven day’s time.
Other storylines to watch out for? How about Isner trying to salvage a bizarre ending to his season? Including his third round crash out at the US Open, he’s 4-5 this fall (as well as counting his Davis Cup losses). Fellow American Sam Querrey is the only other Yank in the draw, with the California native an impressive 23-9 since Wimbledon. And our first-round favorite? Try Marcos Baghdatis vs. Gilles Simon. It’s a battle of the daddies!
(File Photo: Djokovic and Del Potro at the 2012 U.S. Open; Credit: Andy Kentla)