If you ever suffer injury heartbreak on a tennis court, Juan Martin del Potro is the opponent you’d want to have on the other side of the net.
In a moment of peak sportsmanship, the Argentine rushed to the side of a weeping Nicolas Almagro during their second round match on Thursday, where the Spaniard hurt is knee and was forced to retire at 3-6, 6-3, 1-1.
Almagro fell to the ground, audibly crying, as Del Potro crossed over the net and crouched beside him trying to console him. He helped him up and walked him over to his bench then sat next to him, packed his bag for him, before they stepped off court.
“I tried to, I don’t know, tried to find a good words for that moment,” said Del Potro, who knows more than anyone the agony of succumbing to an injury.
“I say to him, ‘Try to be calm. Try to think about his family, his baby’. And sometimes the heart is first than the tennis match or the tennis life. And I think he has everything to fix this problem and come back on tour stronger.”
Del Potro, who had triple wrist surgery before returning to the tour last year following a lengthy absence, was struggling with a groin problem during the match on Thursday and said he felt lucky to make it into the third round, where he faces world No1 Andy Murray.
“I don’t feel good enough after this sadness situation. I wish a good recovery to Nico. Hopefully he can feel better very, very soon, because he’s a great player and we love to have him on tour,” said the No29 seed.
“And of course it’s not easy for me when you have a friend in the other side of the court showing an injury or crying. It was really a bad moment for both, but I wish all the best to him.”
Del Potro, who is playing the French Open for the first time since 2012, faced Murray in two of his biggest matches last season – at the Rio Olympics and in the Davis Cup semi-finals.
Murray won gold in Rio but Del Potro avenged that defeat in Davis Cup and went on to win the trophy for Argentina.
“We play great battles last year, one each,” said Del Potro. “After tomorrow could be another great battle if I feel good. Andy is one of the favourites to win this tournament. And now I know his game a lot, but I need to be in good shape and physically be stronger to hold a long match if we play a long match, long rallies.
“I’m happy with my level at this moment, so my forehands and serves are working good. But anyways, I need all my body in good shape.”
Almagro went to the hospital after his match and there are yet to be any updates released regarding the state of his knee.
Agnieszka Radwanska smiled when she was asked if she has “unfinished business” here at Roland Garros from last year, when she was playing great – on a surface that isn’t her best – before the weather literally rained on her parade.
Radwanska hit out at French Open organisers last year, following her fourth round exit to Tsvetana Pironkova, for forcing them to play while it was raining.
This year, the Polish No9 seed came to Paris coming off of a foot injury that kept her out of both Madrid and Rome, meaning she only played one match on clay ahead of Roland Garros. She also hadn’t won back-to-back matches this season since Sydney in January, prior to this fortnight.
The lack of preparation though has not stopped Radwanska from reaching the third round after battling past Alison Van Uytvanck 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3 on a sunny and warm Thursday morning. She next faces Frenchwoman Alize Cornet on Saturday.
“You called it very good, unfinished business. Well, hopefully the weather stays like that. But, well, you never know,” Radwanska told reporters on Thursday.
“But, yes, I’m really feeling good in this heat, and of course it was not easy, it was really hot and two-and-a-half hours on court. But, well, yeah, for sure it was better that way than for sure it was last year.”
Radwanska’s foot injury caused her pain even when she was walking, the 28-year-old had told reporters in Madrid earlier this month. She says there are still lingering effects but that she does not feel pain on court.
“I feel 100 per cent on court. That’s the most important thing. So of course I still need to take care of the foot a lot. I’m always saying, spending more time on the table than court, but that’s the part of the day and the preparation,” she explained.
With clay being Radwanska’s least favourite surface, and it is one that requires lots of running, and specific movement, did she consider skipping the French Open – which would have snapped her streak of playing 43 consecutive Grand Slam main draws – and focusing on the grass season ahead?
“To be honest, if you’re talking about the Grand Slam, if I make that kind of decision, it would have to be so bad and I wouldn’t even walk normally. And of course I would wait till the last minute to make that decision,” said Radwanska.
“Of course clay, it’s never been my favourite surface. I’m not expecting miracles here, but I will try my best. I’m playing really what I can do this year on the clay, this is also Grand Slam. So it’s as important as Wimbledon or Australian Open. That’s why I really want to play here, and do my best.”
Radwanska’s dress is certainly something.. pic.twitter.com/hVh4vU91cs— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) June 1, 2017
Roger Federer, who won the Australian Open last January in his first official event back from a six-month injury absence, decided to forgo the clay season to strengthen his chances at Wimbledon next month.
Asked if she would ever “pull a Federer” and do that, Radwanska said: “Well, I wish. It’s not that easy, especially comparing me to Federer, let’s come back to reality.
“I have a different position. But, well, I think it’s hard decision, also for him just to skip one Grand Slam to do good at the other one.
“I don’t think I can do that, especially skipping Grand Slam, but I could skip Rome and Madrid. I had to. But anyway, for me, it’s only four tournaments on clay. It’s still not much, but sometimes even too much for me.
“I’m really trying to play all of those every year, but there is always something happening exactly at that time. That’s why I’m skipping it.”
Against Van Uytvanck, Radwanska hit 18 winners against 16 unforced errors and was 23/29 at the net. Her Belgian opponent, a former quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, fired 46 winners but was dogged by 45 unforced errors.
As journalists we are expected to be emotionless. We’re not allowed to cheer in the press seats, we’re not meant to have favourites, and all that must be reflected in our unbiased writing.
It’s a system that is achievable but can be tested from time to time. Not the unbiased part – I try to be as neutral as possible always – but the rest of it.
At the end of the day we are humans, and it’s only natural to be drawn to certain characters that we cover 11 months a year.
You can be drawn to them because of a story they once told you that struck a chord, or part of their journey you relate to the most, or because you like the way they hit a tennis ball, or any other reason. And of course you sometimes find yourself rooting for a player just because they’re from the same country as you are.
I rarely am in that situation since most Egyptian tennis players aren’t ranked high enough to feature in tournaments I attend – there are a few exceptions – but I do follow all Arab players closely and have become invested in the careers of some of them.
Today was a day I could not be a robot. I sat at my desk in front of my monitor watching Ons Jabeur, a young Tunisian whom I’ve followed since she was 15, put together a dominant display of tennis to upset the sixth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova. I sighed, I screamed, I covered my face, I forgot for a short while that I was a journalist.
I got looks from some people around me but I did not care.
You see, beyond the fact that Jabeur is one of the most likeable people on tour and is someone I am close to, I am in a position to really understand the magnitude of her achievements and the impact it can have on the young girls and boys of the Arab world. Not just the youngsters. Jabeur making noise with her results on the global stage might perhaps knock some sense into the sports authorities of our countries that only focus on football and ignore individual sports.
It can show parents that sport can be a profession and that the typical path of high school followed by university is not the only way to go.
It can show the world that Arabs and Muslims are not just the ones portrayed in the news, they are successful professional athletes, ambassadors, and fighters.
Other countries may have elite athletes in spades – the Arab world does not. And the ones we do have are not given enough attention.
So when I choose to make a big deal of Jabeur becoming the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam, I may be deserting my role as a robot, but I am also fulfilling my duty as someone who can educate the world of the significance of her achievement.
Today I was not a robot. And I’m proud of that.
1 – Ons Jabeur is the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in singles thanks to her win over Dominika Cibulkova.
10 – years since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had last lost in a Grand Slam first round. On Tuesday, he crashed out to French Open debutant Renzo Olivo in a match that was suspended for darkness from the previous night. This is just the third time Tsonga has lost in a Grand Slam opening round.
52 – winners and 56 unforced errors from Oceane Dodin in her three-set defeat to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
85 – Rafael Nadal won a remarkable 85 per cent (17/20) of the points on his second serve in his straight-sets demolition of Robin Haase. He dropped just THREE points on his second serve.
“I knew it was going to be hard. It was going to be crowdy.”
— Renzo Olivo created the perfect English word: Crowd + rowdy = Crowdy
“Last week I won my first-ever clay tournament. And today I lost at the French Open. It’s the paradox of tennis.”
— Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after his first round exit
“Quite honestly, I really don’t give a damn what she says.”
— Garbine Muguruza when asked to comment on Margaret Court’s homophobic statements.
Ons Jabeur bt. Dominika Cibulkova  6-4, 6-3
Playing in her maiden Roland Garros main draw, and against a top-10 player for just the second time in her career, Jabeur got her first top-10 victory with a dominating display against the sixth-seeded Cibulkova. Besides the deft drop shots and the 30 winners Jabeur unleashed on her far more experienced opponent, the Tunisian dropped just two points on her first serve throughout the match.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ cherries outfit, yay or nay? Personally it reminds me of Pacha nights in Ibiza I’d like to forget, but maybe that’s just me!