San Jose: Juan Martin del Potro set two milestones in his straight sets victory over Lukas Lacko at the SAP Open on Thursday, but only one will be recorded in official statistics.
The one that counts is that the 6-1, 7-6 (1) victory put him through to the quarterfinals of a tournament for the first time since his career was derailed by a nagging wrist injury in 2010.
The other? For the first time in his lift, he managed to knock the net off its moorings with the power of his serve.
"I'm serving very strong," del Potro said, chuckling at the net buster which caused a ten-minute delay. "That's the reason."
The hard-hitting Argentine smacked his way past Lacko with punishing, penetrating forehands that pushed his opponent behind the baseline most of the match. Del Potro held off two set points in the second, forced the tiebreaker and finished it off with a strong serve he only lost once.
"I feel different sensations with my body and my mind," he said. "But I'm happy to be in a tournament again after a year out. I'm improving my game slowly. I'm still improving, that's important for the future and for the season too."
He will face two-time Grand Slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt on Friday for a spot in the semifinals. Hewitt eliminated Argentina's Brian Dabul 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
The matchup is perhaps the most intriguing in a tuneup tournament for Indian Wells next month.
Hewitt defeated del Potro in straight sets at Wimbledon in 2009, then lost to him in a tiebreaker in the third set in Washington — just before del Potro's U.S. Open title. The pair of former major winners both have slipped in the rankings, although the ripe 22-year-old del Potro still might have his best days ahead.
The meeting will be the first between Grand Slam winners in San Jose since 2003, when Andre Agassi and Michael Chang met in the first round.
"It'll be a tough match," said the 29-year-old Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002 and the U.S. Open in 2001. "He's a quality player, and he's on the comeback from injury, so he hasn't played the most amount of tennis. But he's a quality player, and if he gets up, it's going to be a tough match."
Earlier in the day, Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin advanced with a 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) victory over American Michael Russell; Tim Smyczek of the United States outlasted Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
Top seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain defeated big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic 7-5, 7-5, while Gael Monfils of France had a surprisingly tough struggle to beat American Robert Kendrick 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.
But it's del Potro who is suddenly trying to steal back the spotlight.
Del Potro is playing only his third tournament — and first in the United States since his U.S. Open run — this year and is looking to make a splash. He was eliminated in the second round of the Australian Open and lost in the second round in Sydney before that.
"I don't know if I will be top 10 again in the future," he said. "But I know the way to find that position in the future. I'm working for that goal."