• French Open, Day One

Del Potro forced to do things the hard way

Jo Carter May 27, 2012

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As the clay courts baked in the Paris heat, it was not exactly a shining performance from Juan Martin Del Potro.

But the world No. 9 showcased his battling qualities as he shrugged off a knee injury to dispatch Albert Montanes in four.

It remains to be seen whether the Tower of Tandil can reach the heights he hit before he was struck down with a wrist injury, but one thing is for sure: he is a player nobody wants to face at Roland Garros.

He arrives in Paris as the only man outside the big three to win a grand slam since 2005 - his US Open win back in 2009 breaking the dominance of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

His best result in Paris came in that same season, pushing Roger Federer all the way in their semi-final before eventually falling 3-6 7-6(2) 2-6 6-1 6-4 as the Swiss went on to complete a career Grand Slam.

That was Del Potro of 2009. Three years on, the Argentine believes he would have finished Federer off when he had the chance.

"I was dominating that match but at the end I was making some bad decisions," Del Potro said. "Despite what happened, it's a great memory and I think things could be different if the same situation arises. I am older now and have a lot more experience."

Del Potro demonstrated that superior mental strength on Sunday. He looked to be struggling as he received treatment on his left knee after throwing away a 4-2 lead in the second set to allow Montanes to claw his way back into the match.

But he grit his teeth and played through the pain to secure a safe passage into the second round. He now has three days to recover before his match against Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Wednesday.

"I had a little problem with my knee but it is nothing dangerous," Del Potro said after his win. "I will be working with my physio for the next couple of days trying to be ready for my second round match."

"I think things could be different if the same situation arises. I am older now and have a lot more experience."

His fans will be desperately hoping it is nothing serious. After a debilitating wrist injury that required surgery and lengthy rehabilitation saw him slump to No. 485 in the world, Del Potro has had his fair share of bad luck.

Having missed the 2010 French Open, Del Potro could consider himself unfortunate to draw a seemingly invincible Novak Djokovic in the third round last year, with the Serb on a red-hot streak stretching back to December 2010.

Del Potro has already picked up titles in Marseille and Estoril this year, and enjoyed a 10-match winning streak on clay that came to an end at the hands of Tomas Berdych in the Madrid Open semi-finals.

But if Del Potro is going to make a run deep into the second week, he is going to have to do it the hard way.

Having safely survived a first-round banana skin (nobody wants to face a Spaniard in the first-round at the French), he could face Marin Cilic or 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third round. From then on in it gets decidedly trickier, with Berdych a likely fourth-round opponent, and Federer, Djokovic and Nadal all standing in his path.

Del Potro is regarded by many as the dark horse, the best chance outside the top four. But if he is to add to his grand slam tally in Paris this year, the Argentine is going to have to show all his battling qualities.

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Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk