Paris R3 previews and picks: Del Potro vs. Dimitrov, Wawrinka vs. Almagro

Something will have to give when Juan Martin Del Potro and Grigor Dimitrov put their hot streaks on line against one another on Thursday in Paris. Stanislas Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov are also in third-round action. Chris Skelton previews the two matches.

Grigor Dimitrov vs. (4) Juan Martin Del Potro

Two of the hottest players (in a tennis sense) of the fall collide with a berth in the BNP Paribas Masters quarterfinals at stake. Claiming his first career title in Stockholm, Dimitrov showed new-found resilience in upsetting David Ferrer after losing the first set of the final.  As he rebounded from an early loss at the U.S. Open, Del Potro collected two ATP 500 titles in Tokyo and Basel, defeating Roger Federer in a hard-fought three-setter at the latter. But his most impressive performance in recent months may have come in Shanghai, where he dominated Rafael Nadal and took Novak Djokovic to a final-set tiebreaker. Del Potro’s return to the top five feels thoroughly deserved as he lays a foundation for 2014.

Whereas the Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Nicolas Almagro encounter (previewed below) showcases a shared strength of the two players, this match will contrast Del Potro’s streamlined two-handed backhand against a Dimitrov one-hander modeled on Federer’s elegant but unreliable stroke. That shot can break down under pressure or nerves, as can Dimitrov’s normally imposing serve. When healthy, Del Potro can expect not just power but consistency from his own serve and groundstrokes, which seem tailored to fast indoor courts with their overwhelming explosiveness. He defeated Dimitrov in two routine sets when they met earlier this season in Rotterdam, where the Argentine won one of his five career indoor titles.

These two men have responded to momentum in different ways, perhaps resulting from their levels of experience as well as their personalities. Dimitrov usually struggles to string together several impressive results, and the steeliness that he showed against Ferrer in Stockholm deserted him when he sought to close out a set against Federer in Basel. Back came the former Dimitrov of untimely double=faults, botched smashes, and stiff movement that suggested paralysis by nerves. In contrast, Del Potro tends to surge from one tournament to the next when he finds a vein of torrid form, as his results this fall have showed. Seeking his fourth consecutive final, he may face formidable challenges from Federer and Djokovic in later rounds. Those opponents, especially the Serb, can sustain the level needed over the course of a full match to derail a confident Del Potro on a fast court. At this stage in his career, the evolving Dimitrov probably cannot.

Pick: Del Potro in 2

(7) Stanislas Wawrinka vs. (12) Nicolas Almagro

Two of the finest one-handed backhands in the ATP will square off in this contest of 28-year-old Europeans. Both the Swiss and the Spaniard combine power with grace in those strokes, which counter the theory that the one-handed backhand cannot compete with the two-hander as a dangerous weapon. Most of their recent meetings have unfolded on clay, and never have they collided indoors. The hard-court matchups between Wawrinka and Almagro stand even at 2-2, however, with the Swiss star superior on faster courts and the Spaniard holding the edge on medium-speed surfaces.

No player outside the top five has enjoyed a season more impressive than Wawrinka.  Although Nadal continues to frustrate him, he has defeated or severely threatened nearly every other member of the Top 10. Twice extending Djokovic to final sets at hard-court majors, Wawrinka also upset Andy Murray at the U.S. Open and Ferrer on clay. His momentum has slowed in recent weeks, most notably with an opening-round loss at his home tournament in Basel. Yet a debut appearance in the World Tour Finals looms, and Wawrinka dodged a bullet in his Paris opener by corralling the lefty serve of Feliciano Lopez.

When 2013 began, Almagro seemed as likely as the Swiss to produce a breakthrough campaign. Had he closed out an Australian Open quarterfinal against Ferrer, he might have soared into the Top 10 by now. A two-set lead and three chances to serve out the match slipped away, leaving Almagro with a bitter disappointment that appeared to poison much of his season. He lost five straight matches on hard courts during one span and held a losing record at Masters 1000 tournaments when the U.S. Open arrived. But Almagro quietly has resurfaced during the fall, reaching the quarterfinals or better at each of his last three tournaments. He showed competitive grit in three-set victories over Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych, which could stand him in good stead against Wawrinka.

Having won six of their nine meetings overall, though, the world No. 8 remains the favorite. His more efficient stroke production and greater readiness to approach the forecourt should serve him well against Almagro on this fast court. But the Spaniard’s underrated serve will allow him to unleash the first strike in many exchanges and keep the match closer than their 2013 resumes would suggest.

Pick: Wawrinka in 3

5 Comments on Paris R3 previews and picks: Del Potro vs. Dimitrov, Wawrinka vs. Almagro

  1. RT @NeilHarmanTimes: “Match with most meaning @milosraonic v @tomasberdych Tomas wins, @stanwawrinka and Gasquet qualify for London. Milos wins, wait goes on”

    Vamos Wawa et Reeshad!

    Vamos Berdy!

  2. People are really confused with these WTF qualy permutations. This is what BG had to say after Wawa’s win:

    RT @bgtennisnation: “@stanwawrinka well played see ya in London”

    Not so, says the ATP:

    RT @ATPWorldTour: “Victory for @stanwawrinka takes him one win away from #FinalShowdown. Over to #Gasquet & @milosraonic.”

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