His wrist is still healing, his backhand is still soft, and he’s taking his comeback one day at a time, but on Friday Juan Martin del Potro took down a top-four player at Wimbledon on Centre Court and he is rightfully over the moon about it.
“My hand is shaking, it’s a great sensation for me, I feel alive,” an emotional Del Potro said when he walked off court after defeating No4 seed Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 to reach the third round.
The last time Del Potro was on Centre Court at Wimbledon, he lost an incredible five-setter to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 semi-finals.
He’s back at the All England Club for the first time in three years following two seasons plagued by injuries and wrist surgeries and he made sure his return to Centre Court was a triumphant one.
“It was great. I mean, the last time I had been in the Centre Court was against Djokovic, in that amazing semi-final that I lost. Now I came again. The crowd was unbelievable with me,” said the 27-year-old.
“The atmosphere was amazing. They have respect for me. It’s very nice to just be on the Centre Court of this magnificent tournament.
“After my third surgery I’ve been trying to play tennis again, it’s like a second or third career in my short life. I don’t know if I can be in top positions in the future but I just want to enjoy my tennis.”
On Friday he certainly did, and he reunited tennis fans the world over, all of whom are hoping that Del Potro’s string of bad luck has finally come to an end.
Fans and fellow athletes took to Twitter to congratulate the Argentine on his biggest win since his return from injury and several hours after the match, “Del Potro” was still trending worldwide.
Wawrinka converted on the sole break point he had in the opening set and he saved the two break points he faced while serving for a one-set lead to hold for 6-3.
Del Potro broke for a 3-1 lead in the second and got a set point on the Wawrinka serve in the eighth game.
The Swiss hit a backhand that was called out and he challenged before walking to his seat, assuming the set was over. But Hawk-Eye revealed the ball clipped the edge of the line and Wawrinka saved the break point and held for 3-5.
A slew of good first serves gave Del Potro two more set points the following game and he did not blink, closing out the set with a service winner.
The Argentine broke to open the third set but Wawrinka responded immediately for 1-1. Two huge forehands towards either corners of the court gave Del Potro two more break points in game three and he broke for a 2-1 lead. Wawrinka made it four breaks in a row soon after and he finally ended the streak of breaks to hold for 3-2.
The pair shared a funny moment when Wawrinka made a poor Hawk-Eye challenge, Del Potro laughing at his opponent while the Swiss put his fingers around his eyes implying that he needs glasses.
The set fittingly headed into a tie-break in which Del Potro opened a 4-2 gap. Wawrinka double-faulted to gift Del Potro four set points and a long forehand saw the Argentine take a two-sets-to-one lead.
Wawrinka took an off-court bathroom break to regroup but it did not shake Del Potro’s confidence, as he got a break point in game six.
An ace from Wawrinka saw the No. 4 seed get out of trouble but he sent a long ball to face a second. That too was saved as the Swiss held for 3-3. Wawrinka stared down another break point in game eight and this time, Del Potro converted to put himself in the position to serve for victory.
Del Potro started things off with an ace and he soon had two match points. Wawrinka’s cross court backhand sailed wide giving Del Potro a third round meeting with Frenchman Lucas Pouille.
“I started to play a little bit too much between, not completely free, not aggressive enough. Didn’t find a way to come back in the match,” said a disappointed Wawrinka.
Seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer wrapped up play on Centre Court, easing past British world No. 91 Daniel Evans 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to become the only men’s player to book a place in the fourth round.
“I’m happy because the goal was to get to the second week. I won nine straight sets which is great,” said Federer, who was lucky to be scheduled on the roofed Centre Court for all three of his matches so far.