Kevin Anderson was playing some of the best tennis of his life. In his only fourth tournament of the year, the South African had already reached his third final of the season at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in Acapulco.
But none of that mattered to Juan Martin del Potro in Mexico on Saturday night. The 6’6” Argentine outplayed Anderson for the seventh time in a row in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (7-0), beating Anderson 6-4, 6-4 to win the ATP World Tour 500 title, his biggest trophy in years.
It’s Del Potro’s first title of 2018, and he had to fight through a wicked draw, including three Top 10 players, for the crown. The Argentine beat serve-and-volley throwback Mischa Zverev, four-time Acapulco champion David Ferrer, No. 6 Dominic Thiem and No. 5 Alexander Zverev before toppling No. 8 Anderson in the final.
The Argentine now has 21 tour-level titles and, what might be especially encouraging for Del Potro, this title on 3 March is the earliest in a season he’s hoisted a trophy since 2014, when he won the Sydney International (d. Tomic) during the first week of the year. It’s also his first ATP World Tour 500 title since 2013 Swiss Indoors in Basel (d. Federer).
Del Potro is projected to rise to No. 8 in the ATP Rankings, switching spots with Anderson. Their seventh FedEx ATP Head2Head matchup, their first meeting in a final, was a heavy-hitting contest, as predicted. Del Potro and Anderson were exchanging powerful strokes from both wings before the Argentine seized his opening, coming back from a 15/40 deficit in the seventh game to break Anderson on his first break-point opportunity.
Anderson would push Del Potro to deuce but no further as the Argentine served out the set. In the second, a scary fall at 1-1 pushed Anderson off his game. The South African approached the net at 15/15 but tweaked his left leg when Del Potro hit a surprise lob.
Anderson received a medical timeout at 15/40 but he couldn’t recover in time. Del Potro smashed a forehand crosscourt winner – he’d finish with 26 winners on the match – and later served out the final before raising his arms and screaming in celebration.
Del Potro now heads to the BNP Paribas Open as one of the top contenders to bring home his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. He will receive 500 ATP Rankings points for winning the Acapulco title and $354,130 in prize money.
Anderson, who finished as a runner-up for the second time this year (Pune, l. to Simon), will receive 300 ATP Rankings points and $173,610 in prize money.