New York - Juan Martin del Potro brought is own cheering
section to the US Open, but in truth, the "gentle giant" from
Argentina has the backing of the entire tennis world.
Even his rival for the US Open title, 13-time Grand Slam
champion Novak Djokovic, has a hard-time rooting against Del Potro, the 2009 US
Open winner who has painstakingly rebuilt his career after years of wrist
injuries threatened to derail it.
"He treats others the way he wants others to treat
him," Djokovic said of the respect Del Potro commands in the locker room.
"I think that's why people love him."
New York fans took the "Tower of Tandil" to their
hearts in 2009, won over by the soft-spoken player with the out-sized 1.98m
frame and overpowering game.
The love affair with New York runs both ways.
"I won my only Grand Slam here," del Potro said.
"When I was a kid, I mix watching soccer and the US Open, that's it.
"I can't believe that I will have the chance to play
another Grand Slam final here, which is my favourite tournament," del
Potro said after reaching the final when defending champion Rafael Nadal quit
their semi-final when trailing by two sets because of a knee injury.
"It would be special to me. And in the finals, anything
That sense of possibility was lost to Del Potro for years as
he sought in vain for a solution to painful wrist injuries.
Unable to defend his title in 2010, he reached a low point
in 2015, playing just four ATP matches.
"I was close to quit this sport because I couldn't find
a way to fix my wrist problems," he said. "I got depressed for couple
of months also. That was the bad moment for me."
The boisterous buddies backing him this week are the
childhood friends who helped him through those dark days, but they aren't alone
in their support for a player whose generosity shines through.
"He respects everyone," Djokovic said. "He
fights every match from the first to the last point. I think people can relate
to that and appreciate what he brings to the tennis."
There's plenty to appreciate in his game as well. The
massive forehand and punishing serve of his early years remain, the two-handed
backhand has begun to reappear, along with the slice backhand Del Potro
introduced to reduce the stress on his wrists.
Roger Federer, beaten by Del Potro in the Indian Wells final
in March, was impressed by Del Potro's willingness to reinvent his game.
"What's interesting is that he put himself out there
with no double-hander (backhand) almost," Federer said.
"I guess he knew it was going to probably not be enough
against some players, but he was happy enough playing this way, which I admire
"That's why I'm also very happy for him."
His extended time away from the game may have denied the
29-year-old Del Potro a chance to elbow his way in among the game's "Big
Four" of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray.
But his 10 career wins over number one-ranked players are
the most by any player never to hold the number one ranking - and further
proof, Djokovic said, that Del Potro is among the elite.
"That shows the quality that he has," Djokovic