MELBOURNE, Australia – Juan Martin del Potro will be happy if history repeats itself.
The last time the Argentine lost heavily to Roger Federer at the Australian Open, he went on to have his best season yet — capped by beating Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final for his first Grand Slam title.
He lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park on Tuesday. Three years ago, he was beaten 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 at the same stage.
“Playing against (the top four) is how you close the gap,” Del Potro said in comments translated from Spanish. “In 2009, I lost here against Roger and I only won three games and afterward I had a great year.”
Del Potro, whose forehand is one of the most feared in the men’s game, was widely tipped as a future No. 1 after his come-from-behind U.S. Open win over Federer.
But the 23-year-old Del Potro’s progress was derailed by a wrist injury that required surgery and kept him off court for almost the whole of 2010.
He returned in 2011 and made the biggest rankings jump of any player — up 246 places to No. 11. But the only win he managed over top 3 opposition came when Novak Djokovic retired with a back injury during a Davis Cup semifinal match.
Del Potro fell to Rafael Nadal three times, including at Wimbledon and in the Davis Cup final. He lost to Djokovic at the French Open, and Federer in Cincinnati.
Tuesday’s loss to Federer in Melbourne didn’t stop the 16-time Grand Slam champion tipping his Argentine rival to at least return to the top 8 by the end of the season. By reaching the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park, Del Potro guaranteed he will be back in the top 10 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“I still believe he’s right there in the group behind the top 4,” Federer said. “If that means 5 or 11, I don’t think it matters much. He’s going to make another move and another push this year, I think.
“I will definitely see him in the top 8 at the end of the year. He’ll get many more chances this year.”
Far from being chastened by his loss to Federer, Del Potro said he would relish the chance to play him again.
“The season has just begun and to have a great tournament like this I think is positive,” Del Potro said. “What I want is to improve and to try to have more matches like today, to get to these moments against these players.
“That would be a good sign and you learn a lot from these matches. I hope I can carry on like this.”
Del Potro accepted, though, that he had been outclassed by Federer, whose service return was in devastating form on Tuesday.
“The truth is, he played fantastically,” Del Potro said. “He misses more with his backhand usually, but today he was very solid.”