Del Potro: Winning Slam his 'biggest challenge'
Juan Martin del Potro is not a member of the Big Four of men's tennis, but with Rafael Nadal's absence at this year's Australian Open, he's hoping he can crash the exclusive club.
With Lleyton Hewitt's loss in the first round on Monday, the 1.98 meter (6-foot-6) Argentine is the only man besides Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic remaining in the draw with a Grand Slam singles title.
The sixth-seeded del Potro eased into the second round on Tuesday with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory over French qualifier Adrian Mannarino in just 76 minutes.
The Argentine got his breakthrough victory at the 2009 U.S. Open, but his career was temporarily derailed by a right wrist injury that required surgery in 2010 and knocked him off the tour for eight months.
Since his return to tennis, he's reclaimed his spot in the top 10, but hasn't been past the quarterfinals of a major - largely because of the Big Four.
Last year, Federer knocked him out in the quarters at Melbourne Park and Roland Garros and Djokovic beat him in the quarters at the U.S. Open. In 2011, Nadal beat him in the fourth round at Wimbledon and Djokovic defeated him in the third round at Roland Garros.
After Tuesday's first-round victory at the Australian Open, del Potro said winning a second Grand Slam could be his ''biggest challenge on this year.''
''I'm trying to do that this year,'' he said. ''But (the Big Four) are playing really good tennis, and it's not easy.''
He has more of an opening in Melbourne with Nadal pulling out due to illness, but he's in the same half of the draw as Murray and Federer, meaning he might have to play Murray in the quarterfinals, Federer in the semifinals and Djokovic in the finals to win the title.
Del Potro has a 1-5 win-loss record against Murray, a 4-13 record against Federer and a 2-7 record against Djokovic.
''They are so far from me at the moment,'' he said of the Big Four. ''The last 33 Grand Slams (have been won by) the same names, the same players.''
''I know how tough it is to win a Grand Slam,'' he said. ''But I know the way to win a Grand Slam, also.''
If del Potro's performance against Mannarino is any indication of his current level of play, he could well make a deep run in Melbourne.
He beat the Frenchman in the first round at the Australian Open last year, as well, but needed four sets and three hours to do it.
In Tuesday's match, however, he hit 24 winners and made only eight unforced errors.
''I think I played really aggressive,'' del Potro said. ''I made a lot of winners with my forehand. I served well. I made a very good start to this Open.''