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Del Potro Grits His Teeth, Sets Up Berdych Clash

Juan Martin del Potro grit his teeth Thursday and got the job done. In searing heat, and battling an apparent injury, the popular Argentine booked his place in the Australian Open third round.

As Karen Khachanov took the third-set tie-break without losing a point, Del Potro appeared to fatigue. Summoning inner reserves, built up during the off-season, the 12th seed dug deep to record a 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-7(0), 6-4 victory in three hours and 45 minutes on Hisense Arena.

Juan Martin del Potro had a tough battle against 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Karen Khachanov.
Afterwards, on-court, the 2009 and 2012 quarter-finalist admitted, “I didn’t expect to play this kind of match, I prefer to watch on TV. I‘m so happy to be playing in Melbourne after many years. I had pain everywhere, but I‘m still standing up.”

Del Potro, who is competing at the Australian Open for the first time since 2014, will now prepare to face 2014-15 semi-finalist Tomas Berdych, the Czech No. 19 seed, who notched a 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Del Potro leads Berdych 5-3 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

"It's going to be a difficult, difficult challenge to me," Del Potro said. "Tomas is one of the players who has the power to beat all the guys on tour. When he's feeling good, he's very dangerous guy. I will try to feel better for that match and then see if I am still winning."

The 21-year-old Khachanov reeled off 14 straight points, courtesy of hard hitting, from the third-set tie-break and into the fourth set, but Del Potro secured the decisive break in the fifth game. Often clutching his right leg and thigh, which required on-court treatment, Del Potro remained solid on serve and booked his spot in the third round – for the fifth time overall – when Khachanov struck a forehand into the net.

Del Potro, 29, who this week returned to the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since 4 August 2014, praised Khachanov by saying, “Guys are so strong, I feel I am getting older for sure. They play so hard. He hit harder than me. I had to run a lot but I think I took my chances to win the match and I‘m so happy to go through.”
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Last week, Del Potro knocked out the Russian Khachanov 7-6(4), 6-3 in the ASB Classic quarter-finals.

On Thursday at Melbourne Park, Khachanov out-hit Del Potro 28 aces to 13, and 73 winners to 60, but it was the Argentine’s first serve (73/90 points won) and ability to break (3/15) that mattered most.

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