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Happy Birthday, DelPo! 10 of Juan Martin del Potro’s greatest moments
From winning streaks and Grand Slam runs to Olympic medals and Davis Cup heroics, here's a look back at 10 of the beloved Argentine's achievements on his 32nd birthday.
Published Sep 23, 2020
Juan Martin del Potro hasn’t played a match in more than 15 months, most recently undergoing knee surgery in August. But over his 15-year professional career he’s had some very special moments on the court, and on this special day—his birthday—we thought we’d take a walk down memory lane.
We count down the Top 10 moments of Del Potro’s incredible career… do you agree?
Del Potro had been on the rise for years—he was the youngest player in the Top 200 in 2005, the youngest in the Top 100 in 2006 and the youngest in the Top 50 in 2007. But in 2008 he took it to a whole new level. He went on a 23-match winning streak in the summer, bringing home his first four ATP titles at Stuttgart, Kitzbuhel, Los Angeles and Washington. He also contested his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open, where he fell to Andy Murray in four tough sets, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-5.
Having been ranked No. 65 going into the summer, Del Potro left the US Open at No. 13, right before his 20th birthday. He would break the Top 10 after reaching another final in Tokyo a few weeks later.
Having just lost to him two weeks earlier in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells, Del Potro turned the tables on Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of Miami in 2009, battling back from a double break down at 3-0 in the third set to beat the Spaniard after exactly three hours on court, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
He was asked afterwards if it was the biggest moment of his career. “Of course,” he replied.
Del Potro now has 10 career wins over No. 1s, the most by a player who’s never been No. 1 himself.
Del Potro very nearly made the gold medal match at the London Olympics in 2012, battling then-No. 1 Roger Federer for four hours and 26 minutes before finally succumbing in the semifinals, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17. He rebounded however, to beat then-No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the bronze medal match, 7-5, 6-4.
“I think I’m the most happy of the world at this moment,” the Argentine said after winning the bronze.
“After a really sad day two days ago, it’s not easy to recover and play these kinds of matches. But I had energy into my body, into my heart, and that helped me to play this big challenge for me.”
Not only did Del Potro deliver a crucial win for Argentina in the Davis Cup semifinals against Great Britain in 2016, battling back from two-sets-to-one down for a five-hour, seven-minute, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 win over Murray, but he pulled off another miracle in the Davis Cup final against Croatia. Clawing back from two-sets-to-love down, Del Potro topped Marin Cilic in the fourth rubber, 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3, to even the tie, 2-2. Federico Delbonis then beat Ivo Karlovic to clinch the title.
“We were one set away from winning the Davis Cup title but we knew Del Potro was capable of staging a comeback,” Zeljko Krajan, the captain of the Croatian Davis cup team, said afterwards. “He started taking risks when he had nothing left to lose, and that’s when he is most dangerous.”
Having been in and out of the game over the previous few years due to injury, Del Potro went into the Rio Olympics in 2016 ranked No. 141, with the dubious task of facing No. 1 Djokovic—who had won four of the last five Grand Slams—in the first round. But with 41 winners, including 29 off the forehand, the Argentine came out on top, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), with the Serb leaving the court fighting off tears.
“He told me I deserved to win the match. It was really kind of him,” Del Potro told the press about their exchange at the net. “He’s one of my friends on tour. I respect him on court and off court as well.”
“I’m very sad and disappointed, but on the other hand I’m glad a good friend of mine, and somebody who has struggled the last couple of years with injuries, is back playing at this level,” Djokovic said.
As if making it through Djokovic in the first round weren’t enough, Del Potro won four more rounds to make it to the gold medal match—including a grueling 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(5) semifinal win over Nadal.
“I didn’t expect to reach the final, beating Djokovic and Rafa,” Del Potro said.
“But I did, and I get a medal, and it’s amazing for me.”
He wound up falling to Murray in a four-hour, two-minute final, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, which made the Brit the only two-time gold medalist in singles in Olympic history. But there were so many silver linings.
“When I saw the draw, saw my first opponent would be Djokovic, I said, ‘Okay, it’s going to be a short tournament for me,’” Del Potro said after the final. “But at the end of the day, it was an honor to play the No. 1 of the world always, and I did a great match at the beginning of the tournament. Then I kept winning. The crowd made me cry every night. I think that was the key to keep going and not give up.”
Almost nine years after reaching his first Masters 1000 final at Montreal in 2009—and after another two runner-up finishes at Indian Wells and Shanghai in 2013—Del Potro finally captured his first Masters 1000 crown at Indian Wells in 2018. And he did it in style, too, fighting off three match points in the third set to beat Federer in the final, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (2). Federer had been 17-0 on the year.
“It’s so big—I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final,” Del Potro said.
It wasn’t the ranking, it was the journey. Del Potro has had several dramatic ups and downs in the rankings in his career due to persistent injuries: having gone as high as No. 4 in the world in 2010 during his first stint at the top, he would fall as low as No. 485 in 2011; he got back up to No. 4 in 2014, and later plummeted back down to No. 1045 in 2016. But then came his renaissance in 2018, and he finally one-upped his career-high, reaching No. 3 just a few weeks before the US Open…
The first eight months of Del Potro’s 2018 had a lot of positives—the aforementioned first Masters 1000 title and new career-high ranking, as well as a 500-level title in Acapulco. But he saved his best for New York, where he advanced to his first major final in nine years. He lost to Djokovic, but he still made history: no one had ever made 21 Grand Slam appearances between finals.
"The worst moment was in 2015 when I was close to quitting this sport because I couldn't find a way to fix my wrist problems," he said. "I had been suffering a lot. I got depressed for a couple of months. I didn't get the chance to feel better with myself, to do this again. That was the bad moment for me.
"But I think that is completely in the past, and now I'm having a good present, and I’m looking forward for the future. I didn't expect to get these kind of emotions playing tennis again. Reaching finals, winning titles, having my highest ranking ever in this moment—everything is almost perfect."
The biggest moment of Del Potro’s career came very early on in his career with a sensational run to his first Grand Slam title at the 2009 US Open. As if his 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 semifinal win over Nadal weren't shocking enough, he then battled back from two-sets-to-one down to beat five-time defending champion and reigning No. 1 Federer in a four-hour, six-minute final, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
He was the first player to beat both Nadal and Federer at a major, and he did it in the last two rounds.
“It’s difficult to explain this moment,” Del Potro said afterwards. “Since I was young I was dreaming of this, of taking the trophy with me. I’ve done my dream, and it’s an unbelievable moment. It was an amazing match, amazing people, everything is perfect. I don’t know… I can’t believe it.”