During the second half of 2012, Del Potro had reaffirmed his position as one of the men most likely to threaten the ATP Big Four on the grandest stages. The 2009 US Open champion not only upset Djokovic and Federer but dominated most of the players below his quality. To advance towards the latter stages of the Australian Open, Del Potro must string together a series of efficient victories that continue his momentum from last season. He took a solid step in that direction today with a 6-1 6-2 6-2 demolition that recalled the fearless tennis of his initial breakthrough, striking plenty of winners while keeping his unforced errors well within single digits.
Like Federer, Del Potro opened his campaign against a somewhat obscure Frenchman in Adrian Mannarino. A small lefty, Mannarino relies on an uncanny sense of timing rather than the raw power projected by his opponent on serve and from the baseline. This match thus offered Del Potro the opportunity to find his groundstroke rhythm after limited match practice this offseason, without fearing that his challenger would hit him off the court before he grew comfortable.
Crisp from the outset, the sixth seed kept Mannarino pinned harmlessly behind the baseline with a barrage of inside-out and inside-in forehands through the early stages. So unconcerned was Del Potro by the Frenchman’s ball-striking talents that he often ran around his backhand when well inside that part of the court to set up unanswerable forehand strikes. He spurted to a quick 4-0 lead by exploiting the visible size advantage that he held over Mannarino. At that stage, Del Potro may have grown a bit complacent after tasting success so easily. He threw Mannarino a lifeline with overly casual groundstrokes, only to snatch it back with the strong serving that characterized this 6-1 set.
Finishing the first set with a love hold, Del Potro needed to guard against the temptation to lose focus early in the second set against an opponent clearly overpowered. Mannarino’s evident lack of belief played a role in extending the momentum of the rout, however, as he offered minimal resistance in his first service game. After 33 minutes, Del Potro led by a set and a double break, having entered ten of the first eleven games into his ledger. Filled with confidence, he fired forehands off the outsides of lines and found corners of the service box with second-serve aces.
In his leisurely manner, Del Potro ambled around the court between the fierce groundstrokes that continued to rocket past Mannarino in the third set. While the Frenchman somehow managed to survive his first service game, the only break that the Argentine required came soon afterwards. As the conversation swirls around Djokovic, Federer, and Murray as the leading title contenders, Del Potro unleashed an impressive opening salvo that hinted at his ability to join that group.