20 Feb Triumphant return for Delpo, Not so for Tiafoe
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Juan Martin del Potro, the No.1 seed, had a triumphant return from an injury-induced four-month layoff, but defending champion Frances Tiafoe made an unexpected early exit in first-round action Tuesday night at the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open.
Del Potro, ranked No. 4 in the world, made his season debut with a satisfying 6-3, 7-5 win against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan to cap off a full slate of action Tuesday at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center. It was the affable Argentine’s first match since sustaining a right knee injury (fractured patella) last October in Shanghai.
Del Potro said after the match that he experienced some pain in his knee during the second set, but it didn’t keep him from holding off a scrappy effort from the 23-year-old Nishioka, who is ranked No. 72 in the world.
“It was a tough first round (matchup),” del Potro said. “He’s a smart player, very steady from the baseline and he’s very fast as well.”
Del Potro delivered 12 aces and made some key shots in the late stages of the second set. He broke Nishioka in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead and then closed out the set and the match with a cross-court forehand winner on his first match point.
“I played well in specific moments of the match,” said del Potro, who next plays Thursday night against American Reilly Opelka, who cruised to a straight-sets win in his first-round match earlier Tuesday. “I need to keep working on my legs because I was tired at end of the second set, but that’s normal, nothing strange. I‘ll see how I feel tomorrow when I wake up, and then if I’m OK I’ll come for practice and be ready for my next round.”
There will be no next round here for Tiafoe, however. The defending Delray Beach champion was ousted by qualifier Daniel Evans of Great Britain 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 in the first upset of the tournament.
Tiafoe arrived here with a career-high world ranking of No. 29 and was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open last month. He won the title here last year in his Delray Beach debut and was the No. 3 seed here this week. The last time a defending Delray Beach Open champion lost in the first round was 2016 when 2015 champion Ivo Karlovic made an early exit. The 21-year-old American did not hide his disappointment during his post-match news conference.
“I knew he was tough, but I definitely shouldn’t have lost tonight,” Tiafoe said. “I rushed a bit on big points. Very frustrating. Unacceptable.”
Tiafoe was in good position to pull out a win in the third set. He won the first three games of the decisive set and led 4-1 before Evans took the next four games and broke Tiafoe again in the 11th game before holding serve to close out the set and match.
“I put myself in position to win,” Tiafoe said. “It’s a disappointing way to start the outdoor season, but it is what it is.”
Tiafoe appeared poised to make quick work of his opening match here when he won the first five games en route to taking the first set. But Evans just kept grinding away.
“It’s basically been that way for the last year and a half, two years. I just stay out there and try to get the job done,” Evans said of his refusal to give up.
The only other matches contested during the evening session were in the doubles draw. Nick Kyrgios and Jackson Withrow advanced to the second round, as the team of Marcelo Arevalo and Jamie Cerretani with straight-set victories. The No. 2 seed doubles team of Brits Ken and Neal Skupski also won their first match late Tuesday afternoon.