The Associated Press
NEW YORK–Juan Martin del Potro’s stay at the U.S. Open really should be over.
The 2009 champion at Flushing Meadows had a fever and thought about quitting while dropping the opening two sets with little resistance against sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the fourth round yesterday.
Then he trailed by a big margin in the fourth set–even facing two match points.
Still, buoyed by a boisterous crowd chanting “Ole!” and his nickname, “delPo,” he never gave in or gave up.
Eventually, del Potro worked his way all the way back on the strength of powerful serves and thunderous forehands to edge Thiem 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 and set up a quarter-final showdown against Roger Federer.
“I took all that energy to change in a good way and think about [fighting] and not [retiring],” the 24th-seeded Argentine said.
Del Potro long has been popular, but became even more so since returning from three operations on his left wrist that kept him out of Grand Slam action for two years and sent his ranking out of the top 100.
“He was gone for so long that it’s just really nice to see him back playing these kind of matches,” Federer said.
“That’s what he came back for–to get crowd support the way he got it.”
Thiem also aided del Potro by playing his worst tennis when he was closest to victory in the fourth set, which he led 5-2.
Thiem served for the match at 5-3 but got broken. Then leading 6-5, he managed to get within a point of winning at 15-40 on del Potro’s serve, but a pair of aces at 127 m.p.h. and 121 m.p.h. erased those two chances.
The ensuing tiebreaker was dominated by del Potro, who closed it with a booming cross-court forehand winner on the run.
In the fifth set, del Potro closed things on his second match point, when Thiem double-faulted.
How close was this? Thiem actually won more points, 141-139.
When it was over, del Potro raised both arms overhead and threw his head back, enjoying the fans’ adulation, then crossed himself.
He joked that he thought he should get a trophy just for winning this one.
It was by far the day’s most enthralling match, with spectators’ roars heard all the way across the grounds at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Federer was beating No. 33 Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
Federer improved to 12-0 against Kohlschreiber; his record against del Potro is 16-5.
But del Potro won their meeting in the 2009 final in New York in five sets for his only Grand Slam title, ending Federer’s streak of five-straight U.S. Open championships–and he hasn’t won the trophy since.
The other matchup on that half of the men’s bracket will be No. 1 Rafael Nadal against 19-year-old Andrey Rublev, the youngest quarter-finalist at the U.S. Open since Andy Roddick was 19 in 2001.
Nadal got to the round of eight in New York for the first time since his 2013 title, overwhelming 64th-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
“Every victory, every set that you win, is more confidence,” Nadal said. “That what’s I am doing.”
Now Nadal gets to play a fifth-consecutive unseeded foe in Rublev, who took out No. 9 David Goffin 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
Meanwhile, there are four Americans in the women’s quarter-finals in New York for the first time in 15 years after No. 15 Madison Keys grabbed the last four games to top No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-4 in yesterday’s last match.
No. 20 CoCo Vandeweghe beat Lucie Safarova 6-4, 7-6 (2) earlier yesterday while Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens advanced Sunday.