23 Feb McDonald Secures First Semifinal Spot in Delray
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – It was a tough night for seeded players Friday night at the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open, as No. 1 seed and world No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro and No. 4 seed Steve Johnson fell in the evening quarterfinals.
American Mackenzie McDonald chalked up his biggest victory as a pro when he defeated a hobbled del Potro 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(5). Del Potro was playing in his first tournament since a right knee injury sent him to the sidelines for four months. Earlier in the evening, Radu Albot of Moldova rallied to upset Johnson 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), giving him the other semifinal slot opposite McDonald on Saturday night.
McDonald’s win against del Potro was his first against a top 10-ranked player on the ATP Tour. He will be playing in his first ATP semifinal.
“I’ve played a couple of these top 10 guys and it’s always tough playing them,” McDonald said. “I’m handling it better and better, and finally I got a win over one of them.”
Del Potro was obviously not at the top of his game and said after the match that he considered pulling out of the match before he took the court and at times during the match because his knee is still painful. But the 6-6 Argentinian kept plugging along, delivering 16 aces and stretching the match to a third-set tiebreaker.
“I had my opportunities, but it’s very difficult to win a match playing like this,” del Potro said. “I couldn’t run 100 percent. I wanted to play because this is the reason I came to Delray Beach. But now I have to take a break.”
Del Potro said he will not play at Aculpulco as he had planned and he will huddle with his team to discuss when he might play again.
“I wasn’t able to play my best tennis tonight,” del Potro said. “I have a lot of respect for my fans who paid to come watch me play here. I wanted to try and I gave a good effort anyways. I have to decide what is better for me in the next weeks. Now I have to be smart. I played three matches after four months off.”
McDonald and Albot are close in the world rankings, with Albot at No. 82 and McDonald at No. 84.
“Just be steady, attack him,” McDonald said of his strategy against Albot. “I think this court’s good for me. I like my chances tomorrow.”
According to the ATP Tour media guide, Albot’s nickname is “Machine,” but it took him awhile to get the cylinders warmed up Friday night.
Johnson appeared poised to make quick work of the match after breezing through the first set and grabbing a 3-1 lead in the second set. Then, almost at the snap of a finger, the momentum switched to Albot, who won five consecutive games to tie the match, setting up an entertaining decisive third set and compelling tiebreaker.
“I was not in control of the match,” Albot said of the hole he had to dig himself out of. “Suddenly I was able to come back and play better and I got the win. He was playing a little bit unbelievable (in the first set). Great serves, great returns, everything. Not much you can do, and I was missing.”
Albot, ranked No. 82 in the world and top Moldovan in ATP Tour rankings history, will have a busy night on Saturday. His singles semifinal is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Then he’ll be given suitable rest before taking the court again to play a doubles semifinal with his partner Yoshihito Nishioka. Albot said he will be up to the task, however.
“I’m going to go there and win singles and doubles, that’s how,” Albot said confidently when asked how he was going to negotiate the back-to-back matches. “I’ve played two five-set matches in a row (before) so this is not something new for me. It’s not like I’ve got to fly tomorrow or something. Everybody’s getting tired, everybody’s body is getting adjusted at the end of the week.”