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Del Potro falls to Delbonis in emotional affair in Buenos Aires, and bids farewell

Juan Martin del Potro told the crowd that he was happy to have played his last ever match in front of them

Juan Martin Del Potro, Buenos Aires 2022 Juan Martin Del Potro by © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Juan Martin del Potro played a professional tennis match for the first time since June of 2019, and brought a packed house of faithful fans to tears at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires.

The victory may not have come on court on Tuesday night, much to the chagrin of the supportive crowd, but Juan Martin del Potro’s mere presence on a tennis court is a triumph in and of itself.

The 33-year-old Argentinian, making his return to the tour after a difficult three years that saw him undergo four surgeries on his right knee, fell to his compatriot Federico Delbonis, 6-1, 6-3, showing the rust on his game as he struggled to dial in his legendary strokes over the course of the one hour and 23-minute contest.

The draw in Buenos Aires | The program

Smiles at the start, tears at the conclusion

It was a festive evening in Buenos Aires; as Del Potro took the court he wore a wide smile as he sprinted to his baseline after the pre-match coin flip. There were plenty of light-hearted moments during the match, including one where Del Potro jokingly threw a ball at Delbonis after the 31-year-old had beaten his foe with a perfect drop shot in the first set.

Del Potro was clearly off his game in the opening set, and he dropped it routinely, but he looked like a different player early in the second set, as he hit some of his most blistering groundstrokes and held serve in the first three games.

He even saved five break points in the seventh game, but was unable to stop Delbonis on the sixth as his backhand sailed wide and he fell behind by a break, 4-3.

After dropping the next game the 2009 US Open champion took a moment in the backcourt as the tears began to flow. It was one of many emotional moments during a night which marks the last time we will likely see Del Potro on the ATP Tour.

The “window is still open”

After the contest, and an emotional hug with Delbonis, his former Davis Cup teammate, Del Potro addressed the crowd and told them that he will not go to Rio. He said that he was calm, because his last match had just been played on this court, in front of his home crowd.

According to comments, via the Argentina Open, Del Potro said that he needs to focus on getting his knee healthy for the rest of his life.

“Today is a full stop,” he said. “Now I have to take care of my knee for my life, for day-to-day life. But I am going to leave the window open in tennis because what I experienced tonight is unforgettable. If today was my last game, I’m leaving happy.”

The feelings are bittersweet at this moment. Fans finally got to see and experience all that Del Potro has to offer on Tuesday night, which brought them great joy. But the black injury cloud that lingers over Del Potro continued to lord over the equation. Limitless in what he could do to the tennis ball, and blessed with a “Hammer of Thor” forehand, the Tower of Tandil never fully was able to conquer his body, and for that reason, we’ll never know how much more he could have achieved.

What many – including Del Potro – had once hoped would be the beginning of a thrilling comeback to relevancy, ends as a far too brief farewell for one of the most captivating talents of this generation.

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