It was tears again for Juan Martin del Potro, but tears of joy this time. Two days after losing the longest match in Olympics singles history to Roger Federer, del Potro secured Argentina’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympics as he defeated Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-4.
Del Potro had one win against Djokovic coming into this match, in a Davis Cup tie against a physically-hampered Djokovic who was forced to retire. The big question was how del Potro would recover from that 17-19 in the third defeat against Federer, but the Argentine showed no signs of physical or mental fatigue, rebounding to put in a brilliant performance. For Djokovic, attempting to defend the bronze medal he won in Beijing, it was one of those days when nothing quite went his way.
The match opened with both men holding to love, but it was Djokovic who looked marginally stronger, drawing first blood with the Argentine serving at 2-3 as he yanked del Potro around the court like a puppet with an exquisite dropshot and lob combination for 0-15. Two strong returns gave him 0-40 but del Potro, whose first serve has been fearsome all tournament, slammed down an ace and two heavy service winners, then put in a big cross-court forehand for game point. A torrential downpour forced the players off court for more than an hour, but they picked up right where they left off, del Potro sealing the hold for 3-3, then Djokovic holding to love. The Serb had another sniff of an opportunity on del Potro’s serve at 4-5, impenetrable net play getting him to 30-30, but he couldn’t quite break and then found himself struggling on his own serve at 5-5 as del Potro began to make some deep returns, backing them up with relentless depth and accuracy on his ground strokes to break. Serving for the set, del Potro saved one break point with a mammoth forehand winner, then a second with the best point of the match — perhaps the tournament — hitting a cross-court forehand pass right on to the line while running backwards.
It was the little touch of magic that all match was on del Potro’s side as he served out the set. Djokovic managed to hold despite break points at 0-1, but at 1-1, he was break point down when he had a drive volley which should have gone into the open court. Instead, he went right back to the Argentine and del Potro hammered the ball past him to get an error and the break. Everything Djokovic tried was sent back at him with interest as del Potro continued to play some of the best tennis we have ever seen from him and although Djokovic never stopped fighting, keeping it to a single break, del Potro could do no wrong; as he served for the match, a fault to open the game turned out to be an ace by millimetres. He put in two nervy ground stokes for 30-30, then found three big serves to take the match and the medal for Argentina in his first Olympics.