Defiant Del Potro bows out on Buenos Aires return

 - Alex Sharp

One of the most popular yet destructive players on tour revealed he could have played his last ever professional match.

Juan Martin del Potro third round Roland Garros 2019©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

For the best part of the last two decades choruses of “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Delpo… Delpo,” swirling around a tennis arena have created some of the best atmospheres.

We may have witnessed the last time on an emotional Tuesday night at the Argentina Open.

The ‘Tower of Tandil’ Juan Martin del Potro couldn’t hold back an outpouring of emotion and tears, with retirement from professional tennis on the horizon.

His family, friends and Argentinian tennis royalty all packed into the stands in Buenos Aires, the 33-year-old back in competitive action for the first time since June 2019.

Del Potro was given a raucous reception on home soil as he walked out to the song ‘Que Placer Verte Otra Vez.’ The Ciro track (a friend of his) translates to “What a pleasure to see you again.”

That was the tone for the evening – the crowd urging their idol on, t-shirts thanking him for the memories, banners with the social media hashtag #DelpoNoTeRindas (Delpo don’t give up).

The Argentinian icon threw down a couple of his trademark sledgehammer forehands, but couldn’t find the right formula as his compatriot and world No.42 Federico Delbonis ran away 6-1, 6-3. In the last game Del Potro had to halt play to compose himself, the tears flowing, this looked like the end of an astonishing career.

“It's difficult to explain how I felt on the court. So many emotions. The atmosphere was crazy, the people were crazy, and I had one of my best ever matches in my career with the crowd… Today is a full stop. Now I have to take care of my knee for my day-to-day life,” stated the 33-year-old, before a glimmer of hope for his worldwide fans.

“But I am going to leave the window open in tennis, because what I experienced tonight is unforgettable. If today was my last match, I’m leaving happy.”

Remember, Del Potro has endured a horrific time with injuries. At the peak of his powers he was forced to miss nine successive Grand Slams in 2014-2016, yet he still came back. The Tower of Tandil was denied more magic moments with a cruel total of four wrist and four knee surgeries. It’s taken its toll.

“I gave everything I had up to the last point. To be honest I just want to be able to sleep without pain after two years. That’s what I’ll try to do from tomorrow on. Playing with this pain is very hard,” revealed Del Potro, his last major being a commendable fourth round showing at Roland-Garros 2019.

“I feel like I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I want to live in peace.”

Juan Martin Del Potro Buenos Aires 2022©Juan Mabromata / AFP

Should it be the Argentine’s farewell to the pro circuit, it’s important to reiterate what a talent and force he became. Del Potro was one of the few in the modern era who could compete and win within the ‘Big Four’ dominance.

So much so, the Argentine collected 10 victories over world No.1 players and is one of three (alongside Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) to defeat the triumvirate of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal when each of them was ranked top.

Career highlights included taking out Nadal then a thunderous 3-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 final triumph over Federer to land his sole Grand Slam glory at the 2009 US Open. Despite the injuries, heartache and scars, Del Potro returned to the New York finale in 2018, falling to Djokovic’s powers.

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del potro smiling on the podium during trophy presentation US Open 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Also in 2018 Del Potro reached a career-high ranking at No.3 off the back of saving three Championship points to down Federer for his first ATP Masters title at Indian Wells. His Californian desert triumph was his 22nd and final career trophy, but he also thrived flying the flag of his nation.

The Argentine treated us to some blockbuster Olympic battles, prevailing past Djokovic for the London 2012 bronze medal and edging Nadal en route to silver success at Rio 2016.

Del Potro gained revenge over Murray from the Rio final medal match on Davis Cup duty later that season. He roared back to claim a five-hour thriller facing the Scot in Glasgow to help guide his country into the final.

Two blistering victories in the silverware showdown and Del Potro’s blue and white army were belting out “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Delpo… Delpo” as Davis Cup champions.

What raw power, what a champion, what memories.