Day two of the Mercedes Cup features a full slate on singles play. That includes a marquee match-up between two players looking to find their form on grass. Juan Martin Del Potro faces off against Grigor Dimitrov for the third time in their careers. Delpo has taken the two previous matches, which both came in 2013.
(WC) Juan Martin Del Potro vs Grigor Dimitrov
Del Potro returns to competitive play for the first time in a month when he settles in against Dimitrov on Tuesday. Del Potro last played in Madrid, where he lost 6-4, 7-6 to Jack Sock in the second round. Del Potro and his team then decided it was best for the Argentine to skip the French Open to stay on track with keeping healthy as they head into the summer. The idea to prep for grass court play seems a smart one with Delpo sporting a 29-12 career mark on the surface. It also seems smarter when you see that Del Potro has not played on grass since 2013. This specialized surface requires prep work and we’ll find out quickly if his decision paid off or not.
Dimitrov meanwhile will be looking for any semblance of the player who made the 2014 Wimbledon semifinals. Dimitrov has struggled with his confidence for most of 2016 and carries a four match losing streak to Stuttgart. Grass too seems an opportune fit for the Bulgarian who is 26-16 on the surface in his career. He was fairly pedestrian during the grass swing last year though, going 3-2 with losses to Richard Gasquet in Wimbledon and Gilles Muller at Queen’s Club. Many expected last year’s grass court swing to lift Dimitrov out of another slump, but he never really found his footing.
Expecting that again this year seems foolish in light of his comments following his first round French Open exit. Dimitrov described his failures this Spring as “scary” and said that he was lacking a lot of confidence in himself. That has led to a frustrating situation as Dimitrov described it, saying that he was really struggling mentally because he has not been able to find a way to shake loose of this run of poor results.
Del Potro and Dimitrov last met in 2013 at the Paris Masters. It was their second meeting of the season with both coming indoors. Del Potro won both in Rotterdam and Paris. He would take the Rotterdam meeting 6-4, 6-4 and 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Paris. Those meetings won’t provide much insight into Tuesday’s match. Back in 2013, Del Potro was ranked inside the Top 5 and Dimitrov was rising towards the Top 20. Now, the Argentine is ranked #223 after being sideline for long periods due to injury. Dimitrov is 36th, but has been falling steadily since rising into the Top 10 in the summer of 2014.
Tuesday’s first rounder in Stuttgart figures to be a difficult one for both men. Del Potro still seems to be struggling a bit mentally with knowing how well his wrist is going to allow him to play over extended periods of time. That has led to inconsistent results in 2016, where he is 8-5. One of the things the wrist injury or the mentality behind coming back from it has done to Del Potro is sapped him of a consistent serve. When he was healthy, Del Potro used to be able to dominate players with his first serve. His numbers now are not much different than they were in his last full season, but the confidence seem to be lacking.
Off the ground, Del Potro’s biggest hurdle in his comeback as been finding the feel for his double handed backhand. That was the stroke that was giving him the most trouble in his rehab from the wrist injury. As with his serve, his ground strokes just need more repetition and match play. To do that, Del Potro needs to find more consistent results in order to play more matches. This is a big stretch for the Argentine after the decision to skip Rome and Roland Garros to focus on grass court season.
Dimitrov quite simply continues to lack focus and a killer instinct in key moments in matches. I’m not the first to say it and I doubt I will be the last. Dimitrov has all the shots, but too often he seems to lack the aggression to finish points earlier. That leads to extra ground strokes and more difficult shot making. His serve doesn’t always help him either as he is winning right at 70 percent of his first serve points for the season. It’s not terrible, but it’s a click below the better players in the game.
In truth, it’s rather amazing to me that none of his coaches has been able to install the right mindset in Dimitrov since his split with Roger Rasheed last year. Dimitrov then wound up pairing with Del Potro’s former coach, Franco Davin, late in 2015. Davin has not found the right mix yet with Dimitrov and a poor summer could result in another coaching change. Some will probably think Davin will provide an X-factor against Del Potro, but he has not worked with the Argentine in nearly 12 months. Davin’s knowledge of what Del Potro does now with his re-engineered 2016 body is probably very small. I don’t think he’ll give Dimitrov any sort of edge.
This is a difficult match to predict with Del Potro off for the last month training for the grass court season and Dimitrov low on confidence and results. To me though, I’d side with the player who has focus in this spot and that is Del Potro. He may be lacking some confidence in exactly what his body can still do, but he’s trained specifically for this stretch. Dimitrov’s comments after his loss at Roland Garros are troublesome and until he finds some success, don’t expect it.
Del Potro wins in three sets