Nine Years Later, Del Potro Makes US Open Final Return
At the age of 20, Juan Martin del Potro stunned the tennis world by winning back-to-back matches against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to lift the 2009 US Open title. The 6’6″ Argentine blasted his way into the history books, becoming just the second man, after Nadal, to defeat Federer in a Grand Slam championship match and joined Novak Djokovic as one of two men to break Federer and Nadal’s hold over Grand Slam events since Roland Garros in 2005.
Now, nine years on, Del Potro stands one win away from recapturing the trophy at his favourite tournament. The 2009 winner has won 81 of 88 service games en route to the final, where he will meet Novak Djokovic, bidding to win his second straight Grand Slam trophy after triumphing at Wimbledon in July.
“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam final here, which is my favourite tournament,” said Del Potro. “So it will be special to me. It will be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get to this moment.
“I’m here now. It will be a difficult match… In the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I have been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyway.”
But to understand the significance of Del Potro’s return to the US Open final, you have to understand the journey between the two Grand Slam final appearances. Del Potro is bidding to win his second Grand Slam title in his 22nd major tournament since capturing his maiden crown. Should the 29-year-old defeat Djokovic, he would set an Open Era record for most events played in between a first and second Grand Slam title.
Longest Gap Between First And Second Grand Slam Titles
|Player||First Grand Slam Title||Second Grand Slam Title||Attempts Before Winning Second Grand Slam Title|
|Marat Safin||2000 US Open||2005 Australian Open||14|
|Novak Djokovic||2008 Australian Open||2011 Australian Open||12|
|Gustavo Kuerten||1997 Roland Garros||2000 Roland Garros||12|
|Pete Sampras||1990 US Open||1993 Wimbledon||9|
The journey from 2009 and 2018 has been dramatic, with four wrist surgeries and a drop to No. 1045 in the ATP Rankings all a part of the struggle a determined Del Potro has endured en route back to the US Open championship match. After clinching his maiden Grand Slam title in 2009, the Tower of Tandil soon reached the final of the Nitto ATP Finals, once again defeating Federer, before falling to Nikolay Davydenko.
But just as Del Potro appeared to be ready to take his game to the new heights in 2010, a right wrist injury wreaked havoc with his plans. The Argentine missed eight months of the season after a Round of 16 exit at the Australian Open, losing the opportunity to defend his title in New York before back-to-back losses on his return to action called an end to his season.
Three encouraging seasons followed for Del Potro between 2011 and 2013, with 10 tour-level trophies captured. But the 2009 champion failed to move past the quarter-finals stage in Flushing Meadows, with a last-eight loss to Djokovic in 2012 his best result.
Three further wrist surgeries were needed between 2014 and 2015 as Del Potro plummeted down the ATP Rankings, with doubt cast over whether the Argentine had a future in the sport. But Del Potro, as No. 1042, made his latest return to action at the 2016 Delray Beach Open.
“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,” said Del Potro. “I had been suffering a lot. I got depressed for a couple of months also. 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, 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.”
In 2016 and 2017, Del Potro re-established himself as one of the best players on the ATP World Tour, climbing back up the ladder with title runs in Stockholm and consistency throughout the year. In New York, quarter-final and semi-final showings proved the Argentine was back in title contention at the biggest events.
But 2018 has seen Del Potro return to peak form, breaking back into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings in January before lifting his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open in March. Deep runs at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Los Cabos saw Del Potro reach a career-high No. 3 on 13 August, before he once again returned to New York. But this time, Del Potro arrived as a serious title contender.
After six victories, with just one set dropped, Del Potro has lived up to his billing at the US Open. The 2009 champion returns to a Grand Slam final for the first time since his surprise win over Federer nine years ago and could end a streak of eight consecutive Grand Slam titles won by players aged 30 or over. Andy Murray’s 2016 Wimbledon triumph, as a 29-year-old, marked the last title run by a player under 30 at a Grand Slam.
Can Del Potro, nine years on, recreate the heroics of that famous night against Roger Federer on Arthur Ashe Stadium? Del Potro may be referring to himself as the underdog on Sunday, but he knows, better than anyone, how to defy the odds.
“Novak has won Wimbledon already. He’s playing so good. He will be the favourite to win on Sunday,” said Del Potro. “But I don’t know. When I played Roger nine years ago, he was the favourite to win, as well. I will try to make the surprise again.”