NEW YORK (Reuters) - There are three men’s U.S. Open champions still in the hunt for this year’s grand slam crown - Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro - but only one has worked his way into the fourth round without dropping a set.
Five-times champion Federer or world number one Nadal would certainly be the first two tipped by most fans for easy passage through the first week but it is Del Potro who has reached the round of 16 most easily.
The towering injury-prone Argentine has turned back the clock to rekindle memories of 2009 when he beat Nadal in the semis and Federer in the final to win his only grand slam title and cement a life-long love affair with the Big Apple.
“I don’t want too cry this year. I am close,” smiled Del Potro, following a clinical 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory over 11th-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday.
“I want to play tennis, I had too many problems with my wrist a few years ago and now I have a chance to play here in New York.
“I love this tournament and I love to be here in New York.”
There is something about the Flushing Meadows hardcourts, where he has also advanced to the quarter-finals on three occasions, that brings out the best in Del Potro, who swept to straight-sets win over Swiss Henri Laaksonen and Spain’s Adrian Menendez-Maceiras.
Federer, who will play his third-round match against Feliciano Lopez later on Saturday, has been forced to go to five sets in his opening two matches while Nadal, who also plays later on Saturday, has been slow to show his best.
“I think that the bottom half of the draw is going to be surprising for one guy,” Del Potro said. “In the top half, you have Roger and Rafa and they are favourites to win a grand slam title, for sure.
“But I’m just doing my own way, and I have a very important match against Dominic (Thiem).”
Standing between Del Potro and a return to the quarter-finals is sixth-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem.
The two have met twice before with Del Potro winning both, including the round of 16 at last year’s U.S. Open when Thiem retired due to injury trailing 6-3 3-2.
“He (Thiem) has everything to win the match,” said the 24th- seeded Argentine. “He’s having a great season already. He’s the favourite for the match.
“But I like to play him. I like to play him in this tournament.
“Is very special tournament to me.
“I’m getting good energy from the crowd in every match, and I’m feeling every day much better with my game.”
Editing by Ed Osmond