Juan Martin del Potro: US Open 2009 win, Davis Cup and Olympic heroics rank among greatest career moments
As Juan Martin del Potro looks set to retire from professional tennis we look back at some of the highlights from his career. Del Potro beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on his way to winning the US Open in 2009 and also enjoyed some memorable moments at the Olympics. He also came from two sets down to beat Marin Cilic and help Argentina win the Davis Cup for the first time.
Tearful Del Potro beaten in potential farewell match at Argentina Open
Juan Martin del Potro looks as though he could soon retire from tennis.
The former world No 3 and 2009 US Open champion has had an injury-ravaged career and only returned from a two-and-a-half year absence at the Argentina Open this week. It was an emotional occasion for Del Potro, who couldn’t hold back tears in the closing stages of his match against Federico Delbonis and was watched courtside by his mother for the first time in his career.
From Grand Slam success to Olympic heartbreak and some epic matches, we look back at some of Del Potro’s top career moments…
Winning the 2009 US Open
The one Grand Slam title of Del Potro’s career.
Had he stayed fit and healthy it seems likely he would have won several more, but his victory in New York was done in style.
Coming into the tournament as the sixth seed, Del Potro made it into the semi-finals along with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It is the only Grand Slam where the ‘Big Three’ made the semi-finals and none of them won the title.
Del Potro dispatched of Nadal in impressive fashion, overpowering him in an emphatic straight-sets win.
Federer was expected to be more of a test as he was bidding for a sixth straight US Open title after a three-set win over Djokovic, which included one of the greatest shots of Federer’s career.
The final was an epic as Del Potro battled back to win 3-6 7-6(5) 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2.
Federer was broken at 5-4 and 30-0 ahead in the second set and Del Potro raised his game as the game match wore on. Federer also lost his cool and launched an angry tirade at umpire Jake Garner, before Del Potro broke in the deciding set and closed out a memorable win.
By winning the final, Del Potro became the first player to beat Nadal and Federer at a Grand Slam. Djokovic is the only other player to have since achieved it at the 2011 US Open.
Juan Martin Del Potro sacré à l'US Open 2009
Image credit: Getty Images
Davis Cup heroics
Del Potro suffered his fair share of crushing defeats playing for his country at the Olympics, but in 2016 he stood tall to lead Argentina to their first Davis Cup title.
A few weeks after losing to Andy Murray in the final of the Olympics, Del Potro came through an epic five-hour rematch to help lead Argentina past Great Britain in the semi-finals.
He came up with the goods again in the final, beating Ivo Karlovic in four sets and then coming back from two sets down against Marin Cilic to set up a winner-takes-all doubles decider which Argentina won.
Juan Martin del Potro celebrates Davis Cup success in 2016
Image credit: Getty Images
The performance against Cilic was made even more remarkable by the fact Del Potro did it with a broken finger.
“It happened when I tried to catch a ball in the fifth set,” he explained afterwards. “This was an emotionally exhausting match and one of the biggest wins of my career. Thanks to all those who prevented me from retiring, I was very close to never playing again and, well, here I am.”
Winning Indian Wells in 2018
In such a fractured career like Del Potro’s it is difficult to definitively say which year was his finest, but 2018 is right up there – and his win over Federer in the Indian Wells final was one of his best.
Both players went into the match in good form: Del Potro riding a 10-match winning streak and Federer unbeaten in 17 matches for the year after winning the Australian Open.
It was a brilliant match as Del Potro pounded away on his forehand to gain the upper hand.
Federer fought back and saved a match point in the second set tie-break before levelling the contest. Federer then had three match points of his own at 5-4 in the third set but couldn’t take any and Del Potro rallied to win the only Masters title of his career.
“It's so big,” said Del Potro. “I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis. We played great tennis today.
“It was an unbelievable match in all the ways. I mean, we played a great level of tennis. The people were excited on every single point.”
Troubling the ‘Big Three’
On the face of it Del Potro’s head-to-head record against Federer, Nadal and Djokovic isn’t outstanding.
Against Federer he has won seven and lost 18. Against Nadal he has won six and lost 11. And against Djokovic he has won four and lost 16.
However, he has arguably given the Big Three more trouble than any other player aside from Murray over the last 10 years.
Highlights: Del Potro beats Nadal in astonishing semi-final at Rio 2016
Del Potro has 10 career wins over players ranked No 1 in the world, which is the most by any player who hasn’t been No 1 himself. That includes four over Federer, three over Nadal and three over Djokovic.
He’s also beaten all of them in big moments – Djokovic twice in the Olympics and in the semi-finals of Indian Wells in 2013, Nadal in the semi-finals of the 2016 Olympics and US Open semi-finals in 2018, and Federer in the 2009 US Open final, 2018 Indian Wells final, and twice in the final in Basel.
Some of the clashes with Nadal particularly stand out for the brutal hitting and relentless aggression on both sides of the net. Their epic five-set Wimbledon quarter-final in 2018 was one of the best matches seen at the tournament this decade and the embrace afterwards showed the obvious respect they had for each other.
Del Potro would undoubtedly have been even more of a disruptor if he had stayed healthy.
Del Potro never managed to get over the final hurdle and win Olympic gold, but he had some memorable moments at the Games.
In London 2012 he was involved in one of the most gripping Olympic tennis matches as he succumbed to Roger Federer in the semi-finals.
The entire contest lasted four hours and 26 minutes and the final set took two hours and 43 minutes as Federer eventually came through won 3-6 7-6 19-17. Just two days later Del Potro rose himself to beat Djokovic in straight sets and win a bronze medal.
"I think I'm the most happy of the world at this moment," said an ecstatic Del Potro. "After a really sad day two days ago, it's not easy to recover and to play these kind of matches. But I had energy into my body, into my heart, and that's help me to play this big challenge for me."
In Rio, Del Potro would inflict on Djokovic one of the “toughest losses” of his career when he beat him in the first round.
Del Potro was ranked No 145 in the world after coming back from injury earlier in the year, but he produced a brilliant performance to battle past Djokovic 7-6(4) 7-6(2).
He followed it up with a brilliant three-set win over Nadal in the semi-finals to set up a meeting with Murray in the final. A four-hour battle featured 14 breaks of serve and both players looked exhausted when Murray eventually closed out victory to win the second singles gold medal of his career.
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