2009 Champ, Who Hasn't Lost A Set In This Tournament, Has Overcome Countless Setbacks Over Last Few Years

By Ann Liguori
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Welcome back, Juan Martin del Potro!

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The 27-year-old Argentinean has become my favorite story so far at this US Open and by the sound of the roars from the crowds when he plays, many others are appreciating his return as well.

Del Potro won the Open back in 2009, ending top-ranked Roger Federer’s 40-match tournament win streak in a five-set final after beating No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the semifinals. But the next year, del Potro was unable to defend his title because he had to undergo right wrist surgery in May of 2010 and has had several additional wrist surgeries since, which had forced him to miss nine straight major championships.

In fact, last year he played only four matches and the year before just 10. He hasn’t advanced to a quarterfinal since Wimbledon in 2013.

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Del Potro has enjoyed solid results this year in his comeback, including semifinal appearances in Delray Beach and Stuttgart and a quarterfinal appearance in Munich. And at the Rio Olympics, he won the silver medal in singles, losing to Andy Murray in the finals after beating Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to get there.

And now this spectacular run at the Open. He hasn’t dropped a set. He received a wild card entry into this tournament and came in ranked No. 141 in the world. In his fourth-round match on Monday, he was up 6-3, 3-2 when his opponent, Dominic Thiem, the No. 8 seed from Austria, withdrew with a knee injury.

So with that, del Potro becomes the lowest-ranked US Open quarterfinalist since Jimmy Connors made his magical run 25 years ago when he was ranked 174th.

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Del Potro said he was actually close to stepping away from the game for good.

“Well, I was close to retiring before my third surgery,” he revealed, “but after that I always believe on myself to come back to tennis. When I made the decision to do the surgery, I always believe I will come back, for sure. And after that, everything change to myself, and now I’m here. I’m playing free. I don’t have any big problems in my wrist, and that’s important. Sometimes bother me a little bit, but I can deal with that. I’m still improving my backhand.

“I’m enjoying even more when I get into the courts than years ago, I just want to play tennis in front of the big crowds,” he added. “I’m so exciting to still winning matches and maybe in the top positions in the future. … I think that everything in 2009 is completely the past. You know, of course I asked for the wild card here because of that memory, but now my life is different. I have a different game. I’m getting older. Everything is like new for me. It’s like a new career after my third surgery. I’m really enjoying this.”

And we’re enjoying having del Potro back. If by chance he can continue this magical run, and get to Sunday’s final, del Potro would be the very first wild card in the US Open final and the lowest-ranked grand slam finalist in the history of the ATP rankings.

But first he has to focus on his next match against Stan Wawrinka, who disposed of Illya Marchenko in four sets on Monday. One thing is certain: the stadium will rock as a LOUD crowd will reward del Potro for his amazing comeback.

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Some of del Potro’s other notable matches include him ending Andy Roddick’s singles career by beating him in the fourth round in 2012 before losing to No. 2 seed Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

And at Wimbledon in 2013, he lost to Djokovic in the longest semifinal ever — 4 hours, 43 minutes.

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