(5) Kevin Anderson vs Jared Donaldson
Anderson Crushing On Serve, Donaldson Nearly Perfect
Kevin Anderson comes into his third Acapulco semifinal on fire with his serve. Against a great returner in Hyeon Chung, the South African nailed 18 aces and controlled the match by winning 79 percent of the points with his first serve. Anderson edged Chung 7-6 (5), 6-4. His ace count through three rounds is now at 39. Anderson once again showed great aggressive play to control the points, finishing off volleys well as he came forward to net. He didn’t shy away from going toe-to-toe against Chung in baseline rallies with his superior power winning out.
In return, he did enough with small windows of opportunity. After saving six of seven break points against his own serve, Anderson came through with two big breaks of the Chung serve on just three chances. Chung did a good job, winning 79 percent off his first serve, but his second was vulnerable. Anderson took 14 of 26 points played off the South Korean’s second serve. That’s been a winning formula for Anderson all week, with all three opponents winning under 50 percent on second serve.
Jared Donaldson was about flawless by the numbers against Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals. The American dominated 6-3, 6-1. He would win 32 of 34 points played off his serve, including a perfect 20 for 20 on first serve. He had nine aces and never faced a break point. Donaldson did an outstanding job jamming Lopez’s return with body serves to the backhand. That often left weak chip shots in return that the American gobbled up as he moved forward for easy kills. Donaldson has been broken just twice in three matches, facing just two break points all week. He’s won 71 percent or more of his serve points in each match with the ridiculous 94 percent win rate against Lopez. This will be Donaldson’s first ATP semifinal.
These two met last year on clay and it was Anderson walking away with the 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-2 win in Geneva. Donaldson was unable to keep the pace with Anderson’s serving with the South African winning 78 percent off his first serve and 62 percent off his second. He was not broken on three opportunities. Donaldson’s win rates were just 65 and 52 percent. The American dished out eleven break chances with Anderson converting on three. Serve will obviously be a big part of deciding who wins this one.
For Anderson, he simply wants to keep doing what he’s been doing. There will be a ton of confidence in being able to win points against the return and defense of Chung. Donaldson is not in that class, so expect Anderson to get a few more freebies off serve in this one. Again, that isn’t always necessarily an ace. It can also come from stretching Donaldson wide and getting him out of position to make the next ball. Anderson’s power has been fantastic, even on this slower surface in Mexico, of pushing his opponents back and wide. That has left him open to come aggressively to the net to finish off points rapidly.
Donaldson has played one big server this year. That was Ivo Karlovic in New York and he was unable to crack his serve with Ivo winning 80 percent of his service points. He did a fair enough job of measuring up with his serve taking 84 percent of the first serve points and 52 percent off his second. The big difference was Donaldson saw more pressure with six break chances against with Karlovic converting the one he needed to take the 7-6, 6-4 win. I think he’ll have issues getting good returns against Anderson, unless the fifth seed struggles landing his first serve and is forced to more second serves.
That means Donaldson will be pressured again to match Anderson on serve. Against a righty returner, I don’t think he’ll have as much success trying the body serving that handcuffed Lopez last round. He’s going to need to hit his spots and provide depth to keep Anderson from getting good hits in return. Anderson is an adequate returner and he’s gotten better off the backhand side. I would still expect Donaldson to try and pick on that wing and force Anderson to stretch east and west when he goes to the forehand side.
This match for me is on Anderson’s racquet. I think his willingness to be more aggressive in moving off the baseline makes the difference. Donaldson is still too keen on hugging the baseline and crafty players can take advantage. Lopez had some success last round when he came forward and Anderson has shown he can finish at the net very well this week. With Anderson moving in, he’ll force Donaldson to chase more balls and even if he gets to them, he’ll be out of position for the next shot more often than not.
I think Donaldson’s best shot to get to his first final will hinge on his ability to match Anderson’s serve. His ground strokes are good enough from both wings, but I’m not sure if his mental game holds up if Anderson is crushing the ball on serve as he has this week. That keeps pressure mounting on Donaldson’s serve and he’s shown more cracks normally when that happens. I can see Donaldson grabbing a set in a tie break perhaps or the first as they sort each other out. In the end though, I think Anderson’s tactics, if they stay similar to what we’ve seen, will gut out the win.
Prediction: Anderson wins in three sets
(2) Alexander Zverev vs (6) Juan Martin Del Potro
Marquee Battle Set For Friday Night
This is certainly the sexier of the two semifinals in Acapulco with two seeds battling for a spot in the final. Zverev was a bit of a question mark for me with the troubling loss to Andreas Seppi in Rotterdam. He got some good luck early when Steve Johnson withdrew and handed Sascha an easier match-up against Mackenzie McDonald in round one. He’s taken off and run with that with straight sets wins following over Peter Gojowczyk and Ryan Harrison. He demolished Harrison 6-4, 6-1 in the quarters. He showed better on serve with his tournament best win rate of 81 percent off his first serve. Zverev was not broken and has only been broken once this week on 14 chances. Nine of those came against Gojowczyk.
Sascha’s return and defense were very solid against Harrison. He took full advantage of the American not being very aggressive as he engaged Zverev a lot from the baseline. That’s playing right into the German’s wheelhouse and Sascha made him pay time after time. His backhand was especially solid and overall you could tell he simply had too much power in his game. Sascha was the one keeping Harrison back with his depth of shot off both wings and then he flipped the rallies at the right times to finish off points.
Del Potro might have expected a tough time against third seed Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals, but the Argentine turned in a mostly dominant performance 6-2, 7-6 (7). There were some anxious moments near the end of the second set after DelPo failed to close out the match at 5-4, Thiem would work the set into a tie break and have several set points, but was unable to convert. For the match, Del Potro was just a bit better overall with his first serve taking 81 percent of the points, while Thiem managed just 71. The Austrian really struggled with his second serve, winning just 38 percent of the points.
Outside of his battle with David Ferrer in three sets in round two, Del Potro has been able to win with his classic power ground strokes over Mischa Zverev and Thiem. Thiem found way too many forehands from DelPo, which is never a good idea if you want to beat him. Del Potro’s backhand both in return and in rallies has been good enough this week. It’s helped him get around to more forehands and also to simply keep some points alive.
This is match number two between Sascha and DelPo. The first came late last year at the Shanghai Masters with the Argentine winning 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4. DelPo was sizzling on serve in that one with an 89 percent win rate off his first serve and 65 percent off his second. He finished with 12 aces. Sascha was slightly less in both categories at 79 percent and 48 percent with 22 aces. Both were broken one time in the match. In looking back at the tape of this first meeting, Sascha’s early success came going after Del Potro’s backhand. The Argentine was too passive in flipping slice backhands back to Zverev’s more powerful double hander. That allowed Zverev to control those rallies and eventually either finish off the point with a big two hander or a fierce forehand.
As Del Potro turned the match in his favor, he found more of his bludgeoning forehand and Sascha was overwhelmed by that wing for key points. Del Potro also turned the aggression up in return and in rallies with his two-handed backhand. It was a difference maker in the final two sets. That sets up this match with some key elements to watch. The Del Potro backhand is obviously the wing that opponents will keep picking on to stay clear of the forehand. When you don’t as Thiem found out, DelPo is going to kill you with the forehand. For Sascha, the backhand to backhand exchanges were comfortable until Del Potro turned up the MPHs on his two hander. If Del Potro is going to win again, I think he needs to start with that aggressive pattern and not wait until later when it could be too late.
The slice backhand can be effective for Del Potro to get to more forehands, but he has to keep it from elevating. If it does, that is into Zverev’s strike zone and he’s going to kill it nine times out of ten from either wing. As for the forehands, Del Potro’s is a cannon. Zverev’s has a bit more whip to its motion, but plenty of power too. I still think when you think of danger though, Del Potro is in a league of his own off that wing compared to Sascha. I actually think Del Potro should prefer to go toe-to-toe with Sascha’s forehand. The backhand for the second seed is a much tougher shot to defend to me. He’s got great ability to go cross court and down-the-line off that wing with precision and power.
As for serves, both pack a punch and I think Zverev has continued to improve his serve in the past year. It’s still not an elite weapon, but it’s become a pretty solid ace producer. Del Potro has a big first serve, but he sometimes has trouble with consistency in key moments. We saw that against Thiem late in set two. I always feel like Del Potro should have bigger and more dominant numbers on his first serve. High 70s seems to be his average now when he’s on his mark, so keep an eye on that stat. Zverev is to the point now that his game is about at that level too, so if both are winning in the high 70s – this should be a tight and good match.
This is a tough match to call. As evidenced by their first meeting, this should have some momentum swings to it as each tries some different strategical moves to throw the other off. I think Del Potro has had the biggest test of the two with the Ferrer match asking him to show some of his best tennis to win. Zverev has yet to be pushed as hard. I think you will see plenty of the usual baseline ball bashing from the two, but both have proven they can move in and strike the ball with authority. I still would love to see Sascha incorporate that more into his game as a tactic, not just a response to balls hit short.
Power still seems to give Zverev some problems in these sort of match-ups, but Del Potro gets those nights where his consistency isn’t quite there too. I think this is a bigger ask for Sascha because he hasn’t faced someone who can match him blow for blow off the ground. DelPo can match him and one up him with the forehand. If Del Potro is aggressive from ball one, he could turn this match quickly into his favor.
Prediction: Del Potro wins in straight sets