Juan Martin del Potro: The King of Cool

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—text and photos copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media —

Juan Martin del Potro is sort of like the Elvis of tennis. He’s really cool, on the court and in the press room.

He’s a big furry bear of a guy with a sort of southern drawl — from way down south, in Argentina, South America. 

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He’s popular with fans because he’s good looking with a nice smile. He’s also not cocky about it. He answers questions with sincerity, and tries his best in English.

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He’s modest about his talent, on and off the court. He doesn’t tend to over-exaggerate gestures like other Latino players such as Rafa Nadal. He’s calm and strong, and graceful, in a somewhat romantic and spiritual way.

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He’s a heavyweight boxer who can knock you out with haymakers from the baseline — hard flat shots from both sides that tend to skid through the deep corners of the court.

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Rushing the net, he moves like a puma in a South American jungle. He has nimble footwork for a strapping man his size.

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He covers the court better than most big men on the tour.4I3A4916 4I3A49054I3A31144I3A3179

He seems to go through superstitious Roman Catholic rituals before he serves.

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He is surprisingly patient for a big hitter who can overpower opponents.

“You have to be focused waiting for the chance,” he said after his Japan Open final victory over Canada’s Milos Raonic. “Milos served really well during the whole match, but I took 3 or 4 chances during the last game, and I broke. You have to not get frustrated. I tried to go for the tiebreak, because anything could happen. In the first one, he made a double fault in the most important moment of the match, then I closed out the first set. I was waiting for the chance, and the chance came to me in the tie-break and at 5-5 in the second set. He made two aces, but couldn’t make another. I played a good point and I took my chances.”

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“I think I returned better in the game when I broke. Before that, he made aces all the time. I couldn’t make any returns. In that game, I changed a little bit my position, I saw where the ball was going to go. I could take it and get it back in the court. You can’t hit the ball where you want against service players like Raonic.”

“I did what I can. Basically when he serves I only win a couple of points. When I served I tried to be aggressive, taking him far away from the baseline, moving him a lot, surprising him with some drop shots or coming to the net. Against this player you have to be more aggressive than against the other ones. I did well when I was serving. I waited really patiently for my chance at the end. And I played my best at the end.”

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Del Potro repeatedly thanked organizers for giving him a wild-card entry into the tournament, as the top seed. “I would be at home during this week, training for Shanghai. I decided to come. I lost early at the US Open and had a few weeks off after that. I was in Buenos Aires, so I took the chance to come and play here.”

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After his semi-final win over Nicolas Almagro, he talked about his efforts to recover from injuries and challenge the top players again.

“It’s tough to beat the top guys. I believe in myself. I already beat them in the past. But to break that top four you need to be consistent during the year, and be healthy and play your best tennis all year. They are always reaching semi-finals, finals in the big tournaments, that makes the big difference. From next year, I’m hoping to work hard to be there in those big tournaments. I want to be a better tennis player in the future.”

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