The Mutua Madrid Open needed a pick-me-up.
The day before the tournament began, the top women’s seed, Serena Williams, informed organizers that she wouldn’t be making the trip to the Caja Magica. On Monday, her fellow future Hall of Famer Roger Federer announced that he had re-injured his back and would have to withdraw. As Tuesday’s matches began, 11 of the 16 women’s seeds, including the top three—Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza—were gone. The cat may have been away, but the mice couldn’t play. Was Madrid going to be a lost week on the road to Roland Garros?
On Tuesday, the tournament got the feel-good moment it needed from the unlikeliest of sources. Juan Martin del Potro, whose career has been one long downer for the last two years, recorded his biggest win since 2013, 7-6 (5), 6-3, over 14th seed Dominic Thiem.
As well as Delpo played, his emotional accompaniment was, as always, even more compelling. After Thiem’s final forehand skidded wide, the Argentine clenched his fists and let out a roar that sounded like it had been bottled up since, well, 2013. He blew a kiss to the sky and then, tears starting to flow, buried his head in his towel. We wouldn’t have expected anything less from this happily theatrical showman: Like few other players, he makes his emotions our emotions; because of that, he’s loved like few other players. Even the ostensibly objective chair umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, couldn't contain his excitement as he shook Delpo's hand.