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Keep your eye on Juan Martin del Potro
By Scott Riley, Tennis Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's always interesting to talk about the up-and-coming players on the men's tour, so why don't we do just that this week by hyping up a tall Argentine teenager by the name of Juan Martin del Potro.
With the exception of 6-foot-3ish guys like Jose Acasuso and Juan Ignacio Chela, you typically don't see too many tall Argentines on the men's circuit, but del Potro breaks that mold by coming in at a towering 6-foot-5.
Argentina's best-ever player to date was sub-6-footer Guillermo Vilas, who the ATP lists at 5-foot-11, but I can assure you that Willy, although a great, great champion, is by no stretch of the imagination just one inch shy of six feet.
But let's get back to our story.
Most of the recent successful Argentine stars have all fallen under the 6-foot mark, including Tennis Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian, 2004 French Open champ Gaston Gaudio, 2005 Roland Garros runner-up Mariano Puerta, '04 French Open finalist Guillermo Coria, Mariano Zabaleta, Agustin Calleri, Guillermo Canas, etc.
The lanky 172-pound del Potro is not only very tall, but possesses a big game that is starting to leave its mark on the ATP. The rising teen has won eight matches in 10 ATP-level events so far this season (at the time of this article), with his biggest wins coming against his countryman Chela in Stuttgart in July, versus former world No. 1 Carlos Moya in India two weeks ago and against 2005 U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri in Tokyo just last week. Simply put, he's beaten the likes of Ginepri and Moya in his last two events. His best tournament progress result so far came in the form of a quarterfinal appearance in Croatia in July.
On the Challenger circuit (tennis' minor leagues) this year, "JMdP" owns a pair of titles, with the victories coming in Spain in July and Mexico back in April. He topped rising German Benjamin Becker in a finale in Segovia and bested his fellow Argentine Sergio Roitman in a title bout in Aguascalientes (which is Spanish for "hot waters," thank you very much). Becker, of course, is the man that ended Andre Agassi's legendary career last month with a stunning third-round win at the U.S. Open.
Del Potro, who turned 18 just last month, hails from Tandil, which isn't far from the main Argentine hub that is Buenos Aires. The aforementioned Zabaleta also hails from Tandil, as does former quality ATP player Guillermo Pérez- Roldán.
Currently ranked 99th in the world, del Potro is the youngest player in the top 100, after finishing last year as the youngest player in the top 200. "J- Mart" entered the '06 campaign at No. 159 on the planet after turning pro last year.
Unlike most 18-year-olds, del Potro's already earned close to $130,000 this year. And unlike most of his Argentine countrymen, he prefers hardcourts over clay.
I've only seen del Potro in limited action this year, but he looks like a sure-fire top-20 performer and should give the Gauchos their best player off clay outside of Nalbandian in the very near future.