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Juan Martin del Potro vs Frances Tiafoe Delray Beach Open tennis live: Del Potro aims for second win over Tiafoe this season

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 22 Feb 2018
  • Juan Martin del Potro vs Frances Tiafoe is live from Delray Beach at 8.00pm local time on Thursday (1.00am GMT, Friday)
  • Del Potro has won both of their previous meetings
Juan Martin Del Potro (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Former champion Juan Martin del Potro targets the Delray Beach Open quarter-finals on Thursday night against a youngster who idolised him growing up, talented American Frances Tiafoe.

Back in the top 10 and competing injury-free, just how much damage can a healthy Juan Martin del Potro do in 2018? That question remains to be seen, but the immediate focus for the popular Argentine will be walking away with a first title of the season in Delray Beach this week, a place where he reigned supreme back in 2011, while he has also made two other semi-finals at the ATP 250 event. Standing in his way in the second round on Thursday is a familiar foe - Frances Tiafoe that is - with del Potro beating the American young gun at the Australian Open last month. Del Potro and Tiafoe take to court at 8.00pm local time (1.00am GMT, Friday).

For the first time in almost a decade, del Potro is on a consistent upward trajectory and is declaring himself fit and untroubled by his wrists. The 29-year-old is carrying significant momentum at present, registering a superb 26-7 record since the U.S. Open. We can trace del Potro’s sparkling run back to Flushing Meadows when he battled through illness to somehow conquer Dominic Thiem in five sets after losing the first two 1-6 2-6, saving two match points in the process.

Del Potro went on to defeat Roger Federer in four sets in the quarter-finals before falling to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the semis. He wasn’t content with that showing though, with del Potro reaching the semi-finals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters, winning the title in Stockholm (beating Grigor Dimitrov) and finishing runner-up in Basel to end 2017 on a high and full of confidence. A run to the final of the ASB Classic in Auckland to begin 2018 propelled del Potro back into the top 10 for the first time since 2014, and although he couldn’t make it deep into the Australian Open - losing in the third round to Tomas Berdych in straight sets - the Tower of Tandil remains one of the more in-form players on tour at the moment.

“I'm happy to still play tennis after all my problems and I never expected to get to the Top 10 after all my surgeries,” del Potro said earlier this week. “Now I'm in that group, which is great for me. But I still have good things to improve on in my game.”

Del Potro improved his record to 6-2 in 2018 on Wednesday in Delray Beach, cruising past Jeremy Chardy 6-2 6-4 to book his spot in the second round. Next up, del Potro faces a man who he beat in straight sets at the Australian Open last month - and a rising star who says he idolised the Argentine after del Potro beat Roger Federer to win his one and only Grand Slam title to date at the U.S. Open in 2009.

“Federer’s too smooth to emulate,” Frances Tiafoe said in an interview last season. “You can't emulate a guy like him. He makes it look way too easy. My biggest idol was Juan Martin Del Potro, so playing him (last year) in Acapulco was amazing for me. Partly I liked him because he beat Federer [in the 2009] U.S. Open final. You know, (he was) just someone different. So (it’s) easy to like him and [Rafael Nadal] and all those top guys.” 
“[Del Potro] was the first pro to every sign a ball for me," Tiafoe added. "He's always going to be one of my biggest idols. It was great to hit balls with him at Indian Wells…. He's just an unbelievable player and person.”

Frances Tiafoe (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Tiafoe has been gradually improving as this season has gone on. The 20-year-old didn’t play well during the Australian summer, in fact, he didn’t win a single set as he was bounced out of the Brisbane International 6-3 6-2 by Matthew Ebden and the Australian Open 6-3 6-4 6-3 by del Potro. Things didn’t get any better as he returned to the USA, with Tiafoe knocked out in the first round of the Newport Beach Challenger by another young gun in Miomir Kecmanovic, while his was eliminated in the second round of the Dallas Challenger the following week by compatriot Mackenzie McDonald.

But Tiafoe has started to find some form over the last week or so, starting at the inaugural New York Open last week as he beat Australian Open junior champion Sebastian Korda and Dudi Sela to make the quarter-finals before falling in three sets to eventual champion Kevin Anderson, while he avenged his Brisbane loss to Ebden by toppling the Australian 6-2 2-6 6-2 in the opening round of Delray Beach this week.

The youngest ever winner of the prestigious junior tournament Orange Bowl at just 15 years of age, Tiafoe has been widely tipped for superstardom and Grand Slam success down the years. He’s part of a crop of rising stars coming through the ranks under the the ATP’s ‘Next Gen’ marketing campaign, but the American hasn’t really had his breakthrough moment yet, while he also failed to qualify for the Next Gen Finals in Milan last season. Tiafoe is still trying to find the right balance in his explosive game, while there’s still some technique issues that he may need to sort out - but there’s no question the talent is there. Can he translate that talent to a second top 10 scalp on Thursday? (first was over Sascha Zverev in Cincinnati last year).

As mentioned, del Potro easily accounted for Tiafoe last month in Melbourne, but the pair did combine for an extremely high-quality encounter in Acapulco around this time last season, with del Potro emerging triumphant in a third-set tiebreak. Tiafoe is still very erratic with his powerful game and as such, it’s tough to see him sustaining a consistently high enough level to beat del Potro. His time will surely come, but at the moment, he’s probably still a little bit too raw for these sorts of match-ups.

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Juan Martin del Potro vs Frances Tiafoe Delray Beach Open tennis live: Del Potro aims for second win over Tiafoe this season

Former champion Juan Martin del Potro targets the Delray Beach Open quarter-finals on Thursday night against a youngster who idolised him growing up, talented American Frances Tiafoe.

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