Indian Wells final preview: Can Juan Martin del Potro end Roger Federer’s perfect start to 2018?

Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro will meet for the 25th time on Sunday evening at Indian Wells, with the pair both chasing back-to-back titles.

After winning in Rotterdam and Acapulco respectively, both men have moved through five rounds of action to secure their spot in the final of the first Masters 1000 event of 2018, in what will be a mouthwatering clash.

In the absence of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, and with Novak Djokovic’s struggles well documented, Del Potro currently sits as one of the few names on the ATP Tour who could seriously challenge Federer in his current pomp, with the Swiss on an 17-match winning streak.

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Federer v Del Potro

Head-to-head

Federer 18-6 Del Potro

H2H in finals

Federer 2-3 Del Potro

Current winning streaks

Federer 17-10 Del Potro

2018 titles

Federer 2-1 Del Potro

Indeed, it’s been the 36-year-old’s best ever start to an ATP season and few have truly challenged him en route to three finals at three events thus far.

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Marin Cilic was the first to truly test the oldest world No. 1 in history, falling in five to the Swiss maestro in the final of the Australian Open, but Federer claimed his semi-final win in California against Borna Coric was the toughest match he’d played so far this year.

‘I should have lost the match,’ he said after the 5-7 6-4 6-4 win over the 21-year-old Croat.

Route to Indian Wells final

Del Potro

R1: Bye
R2: 6-2 6-1 De Minaur
R3: 6-4 7-6 Ferrer
R4: 3-6 7-6 6-3 Mayer
QF: 3-6 6-3 6-4 Kohlschreiber
SF: 6-2 6-3 Raonic

Federer

R1: Bye
R2: 6-3 7-6 Delbonis
R3: 6-2 6-1 Krajinovic
R4: 7-5 6-4 Chardy
QF: 7-5 6-1 Chung
SF: 5-7 6-4 6-4 Coric

‘I was down a break twice in the third, down a break in the second.

‘This is the toughest I’ve been pushed this year, more than the Australian Open final.’

How much the two-hour-and-21-minute contest will have taken out of him remains to be seen and Del Potro’s quick 6-2 6-3 win over Milos Raonic, which lasted little over an hour, should stand him in good stead from a physical perspective.

Should he land the title, Del Potro will be firmly knocking on the door of the top five in the ATP Rankings – a remarkable achievement in itself given his long list of injury struggles – but he is yet to win a Masters event, losing in three previous finals.

This will be his second appearance in the final at Indian Wells, having lost to Rafael Nadal in 2013, while Federer is chasing a sixth BNP Paribas Open title.

Though Federer won three of their four meetings last season, Del Potro did take him out in their only clash at Grand Slam level with a four-set win at the US Open.

The main concern for Federer will be the improvement on the Del Potro backhand since then, with the Argentine relying far less on the sliced shot that he was forced to employ after years of wrist trouble and able to come through the ball far more.

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Although the slice has proven to be effective against Federer in the past, Del Potro’s ability to mix up that shot and use it as a weapon more similarly, albeit far less powerfully, to the forehand side should make the Swiss more wary of just rolling the ball into that wing.

Despite the improvements in that shot, the 29-year-old is under no illusions who is expected to come out on top.

‘He’s the favourite to win,’ Del Potro said after beating Raonic.

‘But I will try to do my best tennis.

‘I beat him in the past, and I know [what] I can do to repeat that, but is not easy.

Indian Wells champions since Federer‘s first win

2004: Federer
2005: Federer
2006: Federer
2007: Nadal
2008: Djokovic
2009: Nadal
2010: Ljubicic
2011: Djokovic
2012: Federer
2013: Nadal
2014: Djokovic
2015: Djokovic
2016: Djokovic
2017: Federer

‘It will be a good challenge to see how my level is against him.’

While Federer does enjoy an 18-6 lead over the world No. 8 in their head-to-head, Del Potro has won three of their five finals so he certainly won’t be fazed by the big stage and this will arguably be the top seed’s toughest match of the year thus far.

Expect three sets. Expect excitement. Don’t necessarily expect Federer to win.

One big streak will come to an end and boldly – or perhaps foolishly – I’m tipping Del Potro to deny Federer a 98th ATP title.

Prediction: Del Potro in three

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