Who, if anyone, can challenge the Big Four? That’s the question that’s been ruminating around the tennis chat boards and comment streams since Andy Murray officially cemented his credentials as one of the big boys with his US Open win.
Will be it a young unknown, a Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic or Grigor Dimitrov? Or will it be an established name – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer or Tomas Berdych? But it’s easy to forget that there is another man out there who has already broken the Big Four’s Grand Slam monopoly. Juan Martin Del Potro.
And, based on the way the Argentine opened his 2013 Australian Open account, a one hour, 16-minute slug-fest against qualifier Adrian Mannarino, the Tower of Tandil could finally be back to Grand Slam-challenging form.
"I think I played really aggressive," Del Potro said. "I made a lot of winners with my forehand. I served well. I made very good start for this Open."
Del Potro’s famous forehand was merciless throughout the 6-1 6-2 6-2 drubbing, it being the source of half of his 24 winners. His unforced error count was just eight, and it’s hard to argue with 84 per cent of first serves won.
Mannarino by contrast, whose claims to fame are few, may have fired off 20 winners of his own, but he supplemented them with 35 unforced errors and a further 21 forced errors.
Del Potro began by notching up a double break over the Frenchman to lead 4-0, serving out the first set 6-1 with a forehand winner.
The second set followed a similar script, the big friendly Argentine breaking Mannarino immediately off the bat, breaking him again, and taking a two-set lead with one of his thumping serves.
With Mannarino’s head hanging, the Frenchman gathered himself to hold serve at the start of the third set, but it was merely delaying the inevitable. Del Potro broke on the next occasion, and again in the fifth game. At 5-2, 40-0, all Del Potro needed was a big serve and forehand out wide to round off a successful outing on Hisense Arena. A fist pump towards his team, and he advanced to meet Benjamin Becker of Germany, who beat Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia in four sets.
It was, in summary, a walk in Melbourne Park for the sixth seed, who, in six appearances, has never been beyond the quarterfinals in Australia. Perhaps 2013 will be the year.
"Hopefully I can go far," Del Potro said. "But I need to play better and better. I know how tough it is to win a Grand Slam. But I know the way to win a Grand Slam, also."