Tennis: Juan Martin Del Potro has taken confidence from a hardcourt title and an epic Wimbledon semi-final effort, but the Argentine sixth seed enters the US Open hungry to reach the next level.
Del Potro defeated Roger Federer in the 2009 US Open final to become the only Grand Slam winner in 34 majors since the 2005 Australian Open not in the star foursome of Federer, world number one Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and defending champion Andy Murray.
“The top four have a big difference to the rest of the players,” Del Potro said.
“I have to do well in the big tournaments to get close, but that’s not easy. They are much better than the rest.”
In his most recent Grand Slam appearance, Del Potro lost the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 to Djokovic after four hours and 43 minutes in his deepest Slam run since his US Open title.
“It was a very good experience for me, even in the loss,” Del Potro said. “I played a good match with the number one in the world. Many good things to take.”
Del Potro won his 15th ATP crown earlier this month at Washington, his third career title in the US capital.
“It gives me confidence to keep going and get closer to the top guys,” Del Potro said.
At the US Open, Del Potro could face Serbia’s Djokovic in a quarter-final and potentially would be opposite Britain’s Murray, also the reigning Wimbledon champion, in the semi-finals.
“I know the way to beat the top guys, but it’s not easy,” Del Potro said. “I believe in my game, but sometimes it’s not enough.”
Del Potro lost to home-nation big servers in Masters Series events earlier this month, falling to Milos Raonic at Montreal and John Isner at Cincinnati.
But Isner and Raonic are on the opposite side of the US Open draw.
Del Potro also reached a hardcourt final last March at Indian Wells, ousting Djokovic in the semi-finals before falling to Nadal in the title match.
For all his on-court efforts, the highlight of Del Potro’s year came in May when he met Pope Francis, the first South American pope and a fellow Argentine, after attending Mass at the Vatican.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Del Potro said.
“It was a very special moment for me. I’m very Catholic. It was a big moment I will never forget.”
Del Potro gave Francis one of the racquets that he used during his US Open final triumph four years ago.
“There was a very nice moment when he was talking to all of us, all of his audience, and he turned his face, saw me and raised his thumb,” Del Potro said.
“He recognised me and that surprised me.
We talked for a few seconds. He told me that he knew I was playing at the tournament in Rome, he blessed me and wished me the best. I congratulated him and thanked him for the opportunity to talk to him.”