2016 U.S. Open: Stan Wawrinka vs Juan Martin Del Potro

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A spot in the semifinals at the U.S. Open awaits the winner as Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin Del Potro do battle for the second straight Grand Slam. Del Potro scored the win over Wawrinka at Wimbledon 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3. A win for Del Potro would put him into a Slam semifinal for the first time since Wimbledon back in 2013.

(3) Stan Wawrinka vs (WC) Juan Martin Del Potro
Wawrinka showed some uneven tennis against Illya Marchenko in round four. The Swiss blew a lead in the third set, eventually dropping it, before he steadied to win in four sets 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3. His serve wasn’t at its best as he was brok en three times on ten chances. It did get better as the match wore on, but Wawrinka won his lowest percentage of the points on 1st serve this tournament at just 73 percent. The third seed put up typical ground numbers with high winners (49) and high unforced errors (41). Twice this tournament against Daniel Evans and Fernando Verdasco, Wawrinka has racked up more unforced errors than winners. It is not atypical to see those numbers at close to a 1:1 ratio for the two-time U.S. Open semifinalist.

Del Potro had an abbreviated round four after 8th seed Dominic Thiem retired with a knee injury in the second set. Del Potro himself took a visit from the trainer early in the match for a rubdown on his right elbow and shoulder.That seemed to revitalize him as the Argentine rallied from 3-1 down in the opening set to take the set from Thiem at 6-3. DelPo was up a break in the second at 3-2 when Thiem called it a day. His abbreviated numbers looked good with 81 percent of the points won off his thunderous first serve. He had just ten winners to go with 13 unforced errors. The break of serve against him was just the 7th of the tournament. The Argentine has done well to limit looks at break points with just a dozen the last three rounds after seven break points against him in the opening round.

At the time, Del Potro’s win over Wawrinka at Wimbledon this summer was his best since his return. He since one upped that with the Olympic victory over Novak Djokovic, but it was still a solid win for him as he builds himself back from injury. Wawrinka did not dazzle however on grass, so it might be taken with a grain of salt. It was a pretty even match overall with the stat line showing similar serving numbers for both players. Wawrinka was broken one more time than Del Potro in the match and DelPo won just seven more total points than the Swiss. Wawrinka had his typical feast or famine winners and unforced errors numbers at 47 and 48. Del Potro countered with 23 and 25.

It is safe to say both players are playing better tennis than when they last met and that should make this match fascinating. This is going to be a power slug fest from two guys who love to hug the baseline on this surface. The interesting thing of course is that the strong side for both men is on the opposite wing. Del Potro with the power forehand and Wawrinka with the sweet and stinging one handed backhand. The difference is that Wawrinka’s forehand is pretty darn solid, but also a bit prone to errors at times. Del Potro’s backhand has been a weakness in his return this year, but to be fair, he has shown it to be pretty serviceable lately. He has done a good job of mixing the two hander with the backhand slice and will likely do more of that on Wednesday.

I don’t think you will see either man change his ground game plan much in this one. Wawrinka is likely to target than DelPo backhand to stay away from the ferocity of the forehand. He probably won’t mind some forehand to forehand exchanges, but I’m not sure that is a winning combination for Wawrinka if he continues with the high number of unforced errors. Of course, that is still his method of operation, so it would not be shocking to see him try it quite a bit. Del Potro will want to use his backhand to help set himself up with his court positioning to get around to the forehand. He has shown a bit of hesitancy to rip the backhand down the line, so I think most of the DelPo backhand play will be to set up shots and not go for big winners.

Serve could be a decisive factor. Both can absolutely destroy the ball on first serve, but at times this tournament there have been some struggles for both. The bug-a-boo usually is first serve consistency and when either is not landing that first serve consistently, it seems to roll over not just to second serves but also to the first serves that do land in play. That plagued Wawrinka in the opening set for a bit against Marchenko in seeing a lot of break chances against his serve before he corrected that. It was heavy in the first round against Verdasco too at just 49 percent, but he did overcome it. The last two rounds have been better at around 60 percent and it was needed, especially in the five set thriller against Evans.

Del Potro has seen this issue crop up now and again with the match against David Ferrer showing some of that and his 1st serve percentage in general needing a little boost closer to 60 percent rather than hovering in the mid to lower 50s range. This issue held no place in their Wimbledon match with DelPo landing 70 percent of his first serves and Wawrinka 66 percent. Both would love to see those numbers again.

It will be interesting to see who gets effected by pressure in this one. Del Potro looked a little wonky early against Thiem and had the arm or elbow issue that you have to keep in the back of your mind. Wawrinka has started a bit slow in his last two matches and given his opponent early opportunities to get into the match. Against Del Potro, that is dangerous. He’s got the experience to hold onto a lead, although he may be the nervier of the two with a chance to return to a Slam semifinal. Wawrinka may have played his best when he had to and that was in fighting off match points against Evans, so he may not have any fear, no matter the situation.

To me, this has the potential to be one of the best matches so far in New York. Wawrinka-Evans was one upped by Nadal-Pouille, so perhaps it would be only proper if Wawrinka-Del Potro topped both of those. As their Wimbledon match showed, just a few points may decide who advances to the semifinals. Del Potro has been getting the publicity since the Olympics and that leaves Wawrinka as an under dog heading into this match. I think that is really a good spot for him as he seems to play with more fire when he has something to prove and less pressure on him. If Stan is more “Stanimal” than “Stanisloth” in this one, he could steal the show.

This hopefully can live up to the hype and provide the night session with a thriller.

Prediction
Wawrinka wins in four sets

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