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At French Open, del Potro gets lost off court, wins on it

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PARIS —¬†Back at the French Open for the first time since 2012, Juan Martin del Potro encountered a bit of trouble navigating the grounds, getting lost a few times as he walked around Roland Garros.

“I never find the place where I have to go,” he joked.

All seemed well once he made it out to Court 6 on Tuesday, though. There was del Potro, pounding those intimidating forehands and big serves and only showing signs of his years of wrist troubles when trying to hit his backhand while advancing to the second round with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over qualifier Guido Pella in an all-Argentine matchup.

“He played better than me,” Pella summed it up.

Simple enough explanation for the result.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, is seeded 29th at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament he last entered five years ago, when he reached the quarterfinals.

Against Pella, he finished with 13 aces and nearly twice as many total winners, 33-17.

Of note: Only one of those winners for del Potro came off his backhand wing, the side he has more problems with after multiple operations on his left wrist. He is right-handed but uses both hands for his double-fisted backhands, which often are reduced to slices.

“He has a weakness,” Pella said. “I tried to find that weakness.”

Del Potro missed 2+ years’ worth of major tournaments because of three operations on his left wrist, returning to Grand Slam action at Wimbledon in 2016.

His comeback really showed progress at the Rio Olympics, when he stunned Novak Djokovic in the first round and wound up with a silver medal, losing to Andy Murray in the final.

“I was able to show today that my weak point, which used to be my weak point until recently – my backhand – has got better. I think his strategy was to force me into using the backhand, and he was able to see that it was no longer my weak point and that I was able to use my backhand quite well,” del Potro said about Pella, a Davis Cup teammate.

“But it’s true that sometimes I was a little upset, because I know that my backhand is not quite what it used to be.”

Clay has never been del Potro’s best surface – his power-based game is better suited to faster surfaces, such as hard courts – but he did reach the French Open semifinals in 2009 before losing to Roger Federer.

“That year,” del Potro said, “I thought it was my year.”

Now, at age 28, he takes things slowly, knowing he has room to improve as he tries to return to the upper reaches of his sport.

Del Potro will face Nicolas Almagro in the second round, with a potential matchup against No. 1 Murray in the third.

“I have adopted a sort of wait-and-see attitude. We’ll see,” del Potro said. “I try not to make things too complicated, and I try not to set long-term objectives. I really play match by match.”

 

Federer again pushed hard, advances to Halle semifinals

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer defeated Matthew Ebden 7-6 (2), 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the grass-court Gerry Weber Open on Friday.

Federer was made to work hard by Ebden, who saved five of the eight break points he faced and was leading 5-3 in the second set.

Federer, who saved two match points against Benoit Paire in the second round the day before, recovered to go 6-5 up and then broke Ebden to take his first match point for a meeting with American qualifier Denis Kudla.

Kudla earlier defeated Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-2, 7-5 to book his semifinal place.

Federer, who won his 18th grass-court title in Stuttgart on Sunday, is just three match wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 19 including the Stuttgart title and last year’s titles in Halle and Wimbledon. He is bidding for a record-extending 10th trophy in Halle.

Federer survives scare to advance in Halle

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer survived two match points against Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win on Thursday.

Paire rallied after losing the first set to take the second, and the Frenchman defended two match points at 6-5 in the decider to force a tiebreaker. Eight minutes later, it was a match point for the 48th-ranked Paire, and again when a mistake from Federer left it 7-6 in Paire’s favor.

But the top-ranked Swiss took the next three points to close the match in just under two hours at the grass-court tournament.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 18 matches, including his titles in Stuttgart last week and at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row and is now just four wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer next faces Matthew Ebden of Australia, who upset former champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Also Thursday, Borna Coric defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

The Croat next faces either Florian Mayer or Andreas Seppi.