Melbourne – Argentine Juan Martin del Potro crushed Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 6-1 to reach the final of the Kooyong Classic Friday, where he will face home favourite Lleyton Hewitt.
Cypriot Baghdatis, an Australian Open finalist in 2006, was left flat-footed on a windy day at the former home of the Australian Open as he went down with more than 20 unforced errors in his abbreviated appearance.
Del Potro, the 2009 US Open winner who has twice reached the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, kept his mistakes to fewer than 10 in the rout at the tune-up event prior to Monday's start of the first major of the season.
Once he got his big serve going and found his feet in the blowing, hot conditions, there was little hope for Baghdatis, who commands a huge fan base in multi-ethnic Melbourne.
Del Potro dominated in the closing stages, winning eight of the last nine games as he unleashed his arsenal in the one-way second set.
“It's a nice court to play on, and this week is very good preparation for the Open. It's important to be winning matches,” he said.
“I improved a bit today but I need to do that even more for next week if I want to have a chance to win.”
Del Potro will test himself on Saturday against Australian veteran Hewitt, who won the Kooyong title in his first appearance in 2011.
The match will be an emotional as well as physical challenge for Del Potro.
“Playing Lleyton will tell me how my game is doing,” he said, heading into the Open with just this event as training.
“Hewitt is my idol. He was always my favourite player. He's a good example for me, a great champion.”
Del Potro, 24, finds plenty to like in the Aussie battler's game.
“I like to play him, I like to play long points and test myself - but I would also like to win this title,” he said.
“I know this match will be really tough. Lleyton means a lot to me, he's a big champion for Australia. He has worked hard and made sacrifices.”
Former world number one Hewitt reached the tournament decider by demolishing world number six Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday and pronounced himself in near-perfect form.
Baghdatis plays his Australian Open first round against Albert Ramos of Spain, while del Potro, the 16th seed, faces a qualifier. – Sapa-AFP