Plenty of pop should be on display as 7th seed John Isner and Juan Martin Del Potro meet in opening round play at Queen’s Club. Isner seeks just his second win over the Argentine. It happened the last time they met at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in 2013.
(7) John Isner vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Isner is set to make his return to grass after winning a pair of Davis Cup matches earlier in the year, while Del Potro hopes to follow up a solid showing in Stuttgart. Del Potro flashed a good serve and some solid ground strokes during his semifinal run last week at the Mercedes Cup. He would eventually lose to Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-3. The results are good considering that Del Potro last played a competitive grass court match in June 2013. This week marks his first return to Queen’s Club since that same year. Del Potro made the quarterfinals that year before losing to Lleyton Hewitt.
Isner is back on court for the first time since his 4th round loss at the French Open to Andy Murray. The American is 30-17 on grass in his career. He made the quarters last year at Queen’s Club and lost a tough 12-10 fifth set to Marin Cilic at Wimbledon in the third round a few weeks later. Isner did score two massive wins for Team USA in March when they battled Australia in Davis Cup action. Isner was a one man wrecking crew in leading the U.S. to the quarterfinals. Isner would beat both Sam Groth and Bernard Tomic on their home soil with a blistering 69 aces in the seven sets played that weekend.
Del Potro and Isner first met back in 2008 during the summer hard court swing in the States. Delpo would beat Isner 6-4, 6-4 in Washington and then follow that with three more wins on hard courts over the 6’10” former UGA Bulldog at Indian Wells (2009), Memphis (2011) and Washington again in 2013. Isner had never won a set off of Del Potro until their 2013 meetings. He would take on set in Washington before falling 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. His breakthrough in Cincinnati saw Isner power past Delpo 6-7 (5), 7-6 (9), 6-3 on the fast courts in Cincy.
That takes us to the slick and quick courts at Queen’s Club this week for this battle. Through 12 completed matches, 12 tiebreaks have been played. With the serves these two possess, you figure they should add to that total. Isner played five tiebreaks in three matches here last year. Del Potro played just one last week in Stuttgart, but has gone 3-3 in tiebreaks this year. By comparison, Isner has played in 29 with a 15-14 record in 2016.
If there is anything to surprise in this match, The Pig isn’t seeing it. We’re going to see big serves. We’re going to likely see short, aggressive points. Big forehands and as few backhands as possible from these two. When this originally popped up on the radar for this week, my inclination was that Isner could have the bigger edge with the Argentine possibly pooped from the longer week in Stuttgart. The rain has negated that with Del Potro having had ample time now to travel, rest and get prepared.
What Del Potro may have trouble with is the velocity of Isner’s serve. The only “big” server that Del Potro has faced this year since his comeback was Sam Querrey back in Delray Beach during his first tournament back. He lost that match 7-5, 7-5. The quick grass in London figures to cause Del Potro some problems in trying to solve the Isner serve, but it should give him an opportunity to bring his own cannon of a serve to the proceedings. Delpo looked worn down against Kohlschreiber in the semifinals, but had not been broken in the three matches prior in Stuttgart with only two break chances in all.
That means you can expect power serve to match power serve most likely here. Despite this being Isner’s first match since the French Open, he’s shown a proclivity to starting fast on grass with his serve. For Del Potro, it should be a matter of repetition and not having to face a superior return man on the other side. Barring some travel fatigue or overall fatigue – which would be a bad sign for him to begin with – Del Potro should be matching Isner with the serve.
That leaves this one likely to join the tiebreak parade, possibly for multiple sets. While Isner’s overall tiebreak record is not great, he has been better in that category on grass. The American is 13-8 in grass court tiebreaks since 2014. It’s a tough call overall with this one. A healthy and confident Del Potro would be the choice most days, but the confidence level still seems to go up and down each week with the Argentine. Isner should be confidence on the surface where he scored his biggest wins of 2016 in Davis Cup play. It really could go either way, but The Pig’s chitlens side with Isner in a pair of tiebreaks.
Isner wins in straight sets