Juan Martin Del Potro embarked on an eye-catching run of four successive tournament victories after losing in the second round of the Wimbledon Championships last year. If the powerful Argentine repeats that remarkable feat this season, he will be crowned US Open Champion at Flushing Meadows next month.
The imposing Del Potro - he stands 6ft 6in tall and possesses a powerful serve-dominated game - chose not to defend the 2008 titles he won in Stuttgart, Kitzbuhel (Austria) and Los Angeles but made a successful defence of the fourth of them in Washington by overcoming Andy Roddick on Sunday in a terrific Legg Mason Tennis Classic final. He moves on to this week's tournament in Montreal looking to get the better of a powerful field for the Rogers Cup and confirm his growing reputation as a grand slam champion in the making.
All of the top names are back in action for the Canadian event, with Roger Federer claiming top seeding on the strength of his historic 15th slam title at Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal, whose absence from the tour since his shock Roland Garros defeat to Robin Soderling in June has cost him the world No 1 ranking, makes his long-awaited return to action, while Britain's Andy Murray makes his reappearance after his painful Wimbledon semi-final defeat by Roddick.
Any rustiness shown by those top three players in the world is likely to be capitalised upon by Del Potro and Roddick, who thrilled the crowd in the US capital by fighting out a classic final which went the way of the Argentine 3-6, 7-5, 7-6. Del Potro who sent down 19 aces in what he described as the best serving performance of his career, was delighted to repeat his Washington victory. It was just as well his booming serve produced rich pickings because he and Roddick struggled to cope in the intense Washington heat.
"After the first set I couldn't move any more," Del Potro said. "It was impossible. It was serve and one more ball. If you run, you die." "I'm very happy to win another title and defend this championship," he added before complimenting Roddick on an improvement in form and fitness from their meeting in the Los Angeles final last year. Roddick, 26, whose third-round victory over his fellow American Sam Querrey was his 500th career win, was forced to assume the role of gallant loser for the second successive tournament, having come out on the wrong side of a 16-14 final set against Federer in an epic Wimbledon final.
He took nearly a month off to recover from a nagging hip problem and reflected after an encouraging return to action: "I'm not far off from where I was after Wimbledon. "This is the start of preparation leading up to the US Open. I feel better about my game now than when I got here. The serve will come around with matches. It is tough to get the shoulder up to speed." Roddick, who had played all his matches before the final in the evening, agreed with Del Potro regarding the gruelling conditions. "It was brutal," he said. "To play at 2:30 was tough. Credit to him for winning. The guy has been a solid top five player for over a year now."
Most of the attention this week will be on Nadal, who like the other top seeds has a bye through the first round which began yesterday. The Spaniard insists he is not taking risks with his damaged knees as he seeks to recapture his rhythm ahead of the US Open. "I'm just here to try hard and to enjoy playing tennis again," he said. "I hope to find my best performance as soon as possible. "I don't know how many weeks I'm going to need. I will work hard to be ready in as few weeks as possible. After suffering an injury and being outside of competition, you have to be sure you are 100 per cent. My injury is not risky. I can have some pain. But it is not a risk. I'm OK now."
For Federer on the other hand it is a joyful return after his Roland Garros and Wimbledon triumphs were followed by the birth of twin daughters. The Swiss is oozing confidence as the prospect of a sixth US Open crown beckons. firstname.lastname@example.org