Del Potro into Florida tennis semis

Juan Martin del Potro is inching closer to the level of the top-five player he was three years ago.

The Argentine reached his first ATP semi-final in more than two years, beating fifth-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France 6-2 6-3 on Friday night in the Delray Beach Open.

Del Potro was once ranked world No.4 and a US Open winner. He now stands at 1041 because of an 11-month layoff following two surgeries on his left wrist last year.

He will play unseeded American Sam Querrey in the semis.

In a sign of his growing confidence, del Potro relied more heavily on his two-handed backhand rather than the more dependable one-handed slice he used in his first two matches. Though admittedly fatigued, the 27-year-old Argentine dominated the court, moving fluidly and setting up his hallmark forehand down-the-line winners.

“He put me on the defensive and, against these top-30 players, you cannot use slice all the time,” said del Potro, who also admitted to feeling less jittery than he did in his previous matches. “I actually prefer to feel nervous to how I feel right now which is just tired.”

Querrey squeaked past Tim Smyczek 6-7 (1-7) 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in two-and-a-half hours, denying the 28-year-old wildcard his first career tour-level semi-final. Smyczek was one game away, leading 6-5 in the second set before Querrey won the tiebreaker and then broke in the final game of the match.

American Rajeev Ram saved five break points in the crucial eighth game of the second set and beat Germany’s Benjamin Becker 3-6 6-4 6-3 in windy conditions in another quarter-final.

The 31-year-old Ram will face fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the last four. The 24-year-old Dimitrov beat eighth-seeded Adrian Mannarino of France 6-4 7-5.

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