September 5, 2017
It looked over after two games. And even Juan Martin del Potro admitted later that part of him wanted to quit after two sets of his epic against Dominic Thiem.
‘But I looked at the crowd and they wanted me to continue and they wanted to see my big forehands and I decided to fight.’
And boy, did “Delpo” fight. So much so that after five scintillating sets, he had won 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.
That memorable victory secured what promises to be another classic clash, this time against Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.
Two of the world’s best-loved players, Fed and Delpo, going at it for the chance to play Rafael Nadal next, in all probablity.
You look at these matches, and you realise what a mouth-wateringly magnificent era we live in.
We must savour every second of this golden age while it lasts, we must attend every great match we can. We are so lucky this era isn’t already over.
Why have the thirty-somethings not been swept away? Well, for all the heralding of the next generation, those young guns are not quite good enough yet. We have learnt this at the US Open 2017.
The youngsters are already capable of good enough tennis. But our beloved sport is as much psychological as it is technical.
The likes of Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Nick Kyrgios and Delpo’s latest victim, Dominic Thiem, are are already great box office, make no mistake. They are already stars, even phenomena, and a delight to watch.
But are they mentally strong enough to win a Grand Slam yet? Are they ruthless enough? No they are not.
Thiem had practically obliterated Del Potro after two sets. He later earned himself two match points. He couldn’t take either of them. He let Delpo off the hook.
Shapovalov was sensational at times against Pablo Carreno Busta. But could he show the steel he needed to prevail when it mattered, in the breakers? No he could not, and was defeated in straight sets.
Does Kyrgios ever want it enough? By his own admission, he doesn’t. And Zverev, tipped by most for the very top, can’t yet find the necessary consistency and nerve to make his sparkling game count in the Slams.
That is not to denegrate these wonderful young players, who will keep us entertained for the next decade or more. But they are still learning. Not what their bodies and racquets have to do – but what their minds have to do on the biggest stages, in the biggest moments.
Del Potro played on, long after Kyrgios might have quit through mental weakness. Only the South American’s mind kept him on court. He was rudderless at 0-2 down in games, never mind sets.
Delpo, wondering around in a daze, his eyes seemingly glazed over, his body weak. The match had only just begun and he was already talking to the umpire, wondering what he should do.
He listened to a doctor, took what he was allowed to take, and crucially stayed out there. Even when the match looked lost.
Americans don’t like a quitter but they love a fighter. And how they got behind Delpo from that point on. The man who nearly had to quit the sport entirely last year through injury. The man who decides to give it one more go and see what happens.
This is why we love Delpo. That and his booming forehands, generated by that windmill preparation. His humility seals the deal.
So the Flushing Meadows crowd – and indeed the entire tennis world – will watch the match against Federer with genuine fascination.
Both men could have retired and been lost to tennis ages ago. But they’re still standing. Still mentally resilient.
Take a look, youngsters. This is how the oldies role. The Young Guns have a long way to go to become anything like them.
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