For a 28-year-old whose tennis career has been ceaselessly interrupted by injuries, it’s remarkable how many memorable moments Juan Martin del Potro has taken part in. There was the five-set win over Roger Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final, del Potro’s defining moment then and probably forever. There was Federer’s revenge, in the 2012 Olympic Games, where the Swiss prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17 in four hours and 26 minutes. That marathon took place on Centre Court at Wimbledon, as did del Potro’s five-set loss to Novak Djokovic a year later, in an unsung semifinal classic.
Davis Cup, which besides the Grand Slams affords the only opportunities for five-set competition, has helped the Argentine add to his physically and emotionally demanding collection of epics. In this year’s semifinals, he upset Andy Murray in Glasgow—6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4—to help push his nation through to the final for what seems like the 20th time in the last 21 years. On Friday, del Potro defeated Croatia’s ace-machine Ivo Karlovic in relatively comfortable fashion over four sets.
But del Potro and Leonardo Mayer’s failure to secure Saturday’s doubles point put Argentina in a precarious position on Sunday, needing to win both points to capture the elusive Davis Cup. And when Marin Cilic took a two-set lead in Zagreb, the baby-blue and white were on the brink of yet another shortcoming.
Instead, it simply set the scene for del Potro’s latest moment, a 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 comeback victory that will go down as one of his finest.
It was the first time del Potro had ever won a match from two sets down. When he was informed of this by interviewer Craig Gabriel, del Potro, nothing if not an emotional man, had plenty to say—and then nothing at all:
Del Potro is also nothing if not a marathon man, both at a macro and micro level. The ebbs and flows of his career have manifested themselves in many of his greatest matches, today’s triumph being the latest example. Whether or not Federico Delbonis defeats Karlovic in the deciding fifth rubber to give Argentina its long-awaited Davis Cup, you can’t say that del Potro hasn’t done his part. No one knows at which milepost of the marathon his career has reached; all I can say is, enjoy him while you can.