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Beyond the Baseline

Del Potro's climb back to elite level doused by Frenchman Chardy

Juan Martin del Potro Juan Martin del Potro has never gotten past the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy pulled off the upset of the tournament so far, ousting No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-3 in the third round of the Australian Open. Del Potro, a dark horse for the title after a tremendous fall season that saw him defeat Roger Federer twice indoors, wilted late in the fifth set to tumble out.

Three thoughts on a stunning upset:

1. A setback for Del Potro: 2013 is supposed to be the year that the big-hitting Argentine got back to contending for major titles. He's one of the few guys on tour who can say he's beaten the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic on the biggest stages. After a year and a half slump brought on by a serious wrist injury, Del Potro began to look like the man who beat Federer for the 2009 U.S. Open last fall. His forehand was clicking, his movement improved. Beating Djokovic at the Olympics (and pushing Federer deep into a third set) reminded him that he belongs with the Big Four.

But you don't become part of that conversation until you're a reliable bet to get deep in the second week of a major. Saturday's loss to Chardy raised quite a few question. Through two rounds Del Potro was one of the most impressive players in the draw, ripping his forehand  with impunity. Yet he came out completely flat against the Frenchman on a mild day in Melbourne and couldn't work his way out of the funk tactically. He stayed in a defensive shell and rarely unleashed on his groundstrokes the way he should be when he's dominating. You really shouldn't be scrambling to play defense when you're 6-foot-6, but that's what Del Potro was doing. He consistently found himself six feet behind the baseline defending from sideline to sideline, while the unseeded Chardy, ranked No. 36, had a career day, blasting forehand winners with laser precision.

Del Potro fans can take some solace in the fact that the Argentine has never had a great history here in Melbourne. He's never made it past the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.

2. Andy Murray's draw gets easier: Murray, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 winner over Ricardas Berankis, is the prime benefactor of Del Potro's exit. They were slated to meet in a quarterfinal. Instead, assuming he wins his fourth-round match against Gael Monfils or Gilles Simon, Murray won't play a seed in the quarterfinals. Andreas Seppi upset No. 12 Marin Cilic on Saturday as well. Murray had a 5-1 lead in the head-to-head against Del Potro, but the way the Argentine was playing it was easy to think Del Potro was hitting the ball well enough to get the win.

3. Jeremy Chardy, I doff my chapeau: The focus is obviously on Del Potro but huge respect to Chardy. The 25-year-old has never pulled off a win of this caliber, and to be frank, few could say they believed he had this in him. The conventional wisdom was he would fold after failing to win the match in three sets, a poor third-set tiebreak throwing Del Potro a lifeline. After Del Potro played a poor service game late in the fifth to give Chardy the 5-3 lead, the Frenchman stepped up to the line and served it out without fear.

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