SAN JOSE, Calif. – Juan Martin Del Potro advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since returning from right wrist surgery, beating Lukas Lacko in straight sets at the SAP Open on Thursday night.
Del Potro's 6-1, 7-6 (1) victory was his biggest yet after the procedure last May, which derailed the 2009 U.S. Open champion's rapid rise. He missed most of last year with injuries and is only now starting to regain his form.
The hard-hitting Argentine smacked his way past Lacko with punishing, penetrating forehands that pushed his opponent behind the baseline most of the match. Del Potro held off two set points in the second, forced the tiebreaker and finished it off with a strong serve he only lost once.
He will face two-time Grand Slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt on Friday for a spot in the semifinals. Hewitt eliminated Brian Dabul 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
The matchup is perhaps the most intriguing in a tuneup tournament for Indian Wells next month.
Hewitt defeated Del Potro in straight sets at Wimbledon in 2009, then lost to him in a tiebreaker in the third set in Washington — just before Del Potro's U.S. Open title. The pair of former major winners have both slipped from the rankings, although the ripe 22-year-old Del Potro might still have his best days ahead.
"It'll be a tough match," said Hewitt, 29, who won Wimbledon in 2002 and the U.S. Open in 2001. "He's a quality player, and he's on the comeback from injury, so he hasn't played the most amount of tennis. But he's a quality player, and if he gets up, it's going to be a tough match."
Earlier in the day, Denis Istomin advanced with a 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) victory over Michael Russell, and Tim Smyczek outlasted Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. Top seeds Fernando Verdasco of Spain and Gael Monfils of France were playing in separate matches in the night session.
But it's Del Petro who is suddenly trying to steal back the spotlight.
The 6-foot-6 Argentine showed that powerful serve and wicked forehand that propelled him to a major champion. Early in the first set, he hammered a serve so hard off the tape that the hinge at the bottom of the net snapped, suspending play for about 10 minutes.
That was about the only hiccup.
He overpowered Lacko from the first point, double-faulted twice to go down a break in the second but quickly broke back. He also had a pair of aces — nine in all — to withstand two set points, then cruised in the tiebreaker.
Of course, such dominance isn't surprising anyone at San Jose.
It was only about 17 months ago that Del Petro was No. 4 in the world rankings, stepping into prime time with pounding forwards and go-for-broke shots that painted lines and dazzled crowds under the lights at Flushing Meadows. But a wrist injury put all those hopes on hold, sidelining him for most of last year and dropping him to 484th in the latest rankings.
Del Potro is playing only his third tournament — and first in the United States since his U.S. Open run — this year and is looking to make a splash. He was eliminated in the second round of the Australian Open and lost in the second round in Sydney before that.