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Argentine to face Jarry in first round
Despite missing the majority of the 2019 season with a right knee injury, Juan Martin del Potro shared his optimism on the level of his game ahead of his first-round match at Roland Garros.
The World No. 9, who owns a 4-3 record on the ATP Tour this season, has played just three events this year. But, in his most recent outing at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, Del Potro rediscovered his best form in an epic quarter-final clash against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The Serbian was forced to save two match points in a second-set tie-break, before claiming a 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 victory against Del Potro.
"I also surprised myself after the Djokovic match in Rome," said Del Potro. "I played great tennis for almost three hours, very high intensity, with the number one of the world, which is a very good thing looking towards the future."
"But I know how my present [level] is at the moment. I know how far [away] my best level is. I have high expectations in the future, but not now because I want to be calm. I want to be safe, as well. This is part of my rehabilitation to get better and get to 100 per cent soon... I will try to play as best as I can, but I am going slowly."
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One particular aspect of the former World No. 3's game appears to be returning to full strength, which could spell danger for the rest of the ATP Tour. Del Potro believes that his old backhand is close to full potency, which may help elevate the Tower of Tandil's game to new heights in the near future.
"I am getting back to my old backhand and that helps me for my whole game," said Del Potro. "I played a lot of backhands down the line [in Rome], making a lot of winners and it is a very good thing for my game. Now I can mix it up with my slices [and] different shots that I improved a few years ago. If my wrist still helps me, I will be playing harder backhands, as well as my forehands, and I will have a complete game for this year."
One potential match which catches the eye in Del Potro's section of the draw in Paris is a possible third-round encounter against #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. The 18-year-old enters the clay-court Grand Slam championship in impressive form, after reaching his second ATP Tour final on the surface this year at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon (l. to Paire).
But Del Potro is well aware of the challenges he will face to advance to the third round. The two-time Roland Garros semi-finalist will meet Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open finalist Nicolas Jarry in his first match. Jarry did not drop a set in Geneva en route to his second ATP Tour final, where he plays World No. 5 Alexander Zverev.
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"I know [Felix's] potential. He has a big future but also he is playing great at the moment," said Del Potro. "He plays a strong game. He has all the shots on court and he is getting better and better every tournament. It will be fun to watch him because I love his game, but we both have to win a couple of matches before. Looking to myself, I have a very tough first round with Jarry and I am just thinking about him and that is it."
Del Potro enters Paris with the full backing of his doctor and is looking forward to testing himself in the latest stage of his recovery in Paris. With little pressure and expectations on the red dirt, Del Potro believes his top level is not far away as he eyes future success at the Grand Slam level.
"The doctor gave me big confidence to play this tournament. I have been practising hard, getting ready to play another Grand Slam at this time of my rehab," said Del Potro. "It would be great if I finish this tournament healthy, playing good tennis, good level, because I am looking forward to being 100 per cent in the grass season and also in the summer of the United States. [Those] will be my biggest goals for this year."
But, as he did in Rome, could Del Potro be ready to once again surprise himself on the red dirt? Only four men have defeated the Argentine since 2009 at the second Grand Slam championship of the year; Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. It could take a similar level to stop him again this year.