The Fighting Spirit And Gentle Heart Of Del Potro Keeps His U.S. Open Hopes Alive

NEW YORK, September 5, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)

Juan Martin del Potro came back from two sets down – highlighted by two saved match points in the fourth set – and won his Round of 16 match over World No. 8 Dominic Thiem, 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4, at the U.S. Open on Monday evening.

It was one of the best comebacks you’ll ever see on a tennis court.

The 2009 U.S. Open champion pulled a couple of aces out of the deck that prolonged his match. Then, del Potro won it all in the fifth set on a double fault by Thiem that kept alive his chances of winning another U.S. Open title. Next, the No. 24 seed del Potro will face No. 3 seed Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. It is the second year in a row that the Argentine has reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals and it marks his fifth time in nine years.

“It was one of the most remarkable comebacks I’ve ever seen,” said ESPN commentator and analyst Darren Cahill, who called the match broadcast across the U.S, “especially when you consider the illness he overcame.”

Del Potro fought through a virus that had made him sick the past two days and for a while it didn’t look like he was going to pull through. But, he did. It’s the fighting spirit in him.

As Ben Rothenberg, a tennis writer for The New York Times, tweeted at the match’s conclusion: “Juan Martin del Potro goes from quarantinable to quarterfinalist, beating Thiem in the sickest match of #USOpen.”

The charged atmosphere which kept everyone on the edge of their seats throughout the 3 hour 35 minute match started during daylight hours and finished long after sunset. It was reminiscent of a Davis Cup thriller in Buenos Aires instead of a fourth round match on the Grandstand at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center – and, it seemed, the longer it went the more del Potro relied on the crowd for energy and support. Every point drew a big cheer from the Argentine fans, many who wore the sky-blue and white colors of La Albiceleste, Argentina’s national football team. They were there on Sunday to will fellow Argentine Diego Schwartzman to victory over Lucas Pouille. On Monday night, they were there cheering insanely for del Potro on every point.

When I saw this crowd cheer for me, I fight because of you guys,” del Potro said, during an on-court interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver after beating Thiem. Shriver asked: “Juan Martin, how were you able to win this match?” He replied, “Oh my god …. I was sick and came here and I fought. The atmosphere was incredible. Maybe I will get to play versus Roger Federer.”

Finally, after a little bit of encouragement from Shriver, del Potro spoke to his fans in Spanish. He smiled and, in his deep baritone voice, said: “Buenos noches a tu.”

Throughout the Labor Day evening, there were plenty of long, tiring points that turned into some brilliant rallies – and, it seemed to me, each time that del Potro hit a winner or saved an impossible point, he got the Grandstand crowd behind him. If a crowd can change the tenor of a match, this crowd did it.

Juan Martin del Potro beat Dominic Thiem by snatching the match from the jaws of defeat. – and he did it with a fighting spirit that connected with everyone. Indeed, the “Gentle Giant” played with a big heart – and he won it not only for his fans lucky enough to be in the Grandstand Monday night cheering him on, but also for those whom he connected with throughout the world.

About the author:

Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.