Photo: Triumphant Juan Martin del Potro arrives in time to stun Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic played extraordinary tennis Sunday in his Olympic opener on Centre Court.
He played exactly how one would expect the world’s No. 1 player to play:
He got to shots that seemed impossible to reach, he hit forehands with precision and power and he displayed every shot in an elite player’s arsenal.
But Juan Martin del Potro, or “Delpo,” as his friends called him, played like a world’s No. 1, as well.
And on the opening day, he scored what may be the most memorable tennis victory in these Olympic Games.
The Argentine, ranked No. 141, ousted the top-seeded Djokovic in two thrilling sets, 7-6 (4) and 7-6 (2).
The crowd, made up mostly of Brazilians who were rooting hard for Djokovic, roared when the match ended, aware they’d seen a bit of history.
Djokovic appeared to cry when a blistering forehand by del Potro clipped the top of the net and fell over for the winning point, so significant was the match to him.
“No doubt, this is one of the toughest losses in my life, in my career,” a dejected Djokovic said about a half-hour after the epic battle had ended.
“It’s not easy to handle, especially not now, just after the match.
“The wounds are still fresh, but you know, you’ve got to deal with it.
“It’s not the first, or the last time I’m losing a tennis match. But Olympic Games? Yeah, it’s completely different.”
It’s hardly as if del Potro is without talent.
He won the 2009 U.S. Open and reached the semifinals of Wimbledon as recently as 2013.
Yet he’s also been bothered by injuries and hasn’t been able to play the kind of tennis he’s wanted.
On Sunday, though, it was as if he was at Flushing Meadows again. He was all over the court, rifling shots past Djokovic.
He made only 24 unenforced errors, including just nine in the second set, as he pulled off one of the most significant wins of his career.
It was quite a night for del Potro considering his day began when he was stuck in an elevator in the Olympic Village for 40 minutes before he was rescued by Argentina’s handball team.
His night ended with a crowd of reporters surrounding him, a stunned look on his face as he discussed a result few saw coming.
“That was an unbelievable match for me,” he said, shaking his head. “I hit my forehand as hard as I can.
“I made a lot of winners. … It’s a nice win for me. This victory is important for me.”
The first game of the first set gave an indication of the type of match it would be.
Back and forth they went, with Del Potro getting several break points and Djokovic finally fighting him off.
Del Potro had 41 winners to Djokovic’s 26, though he had only three aces. He had to grind out everything.
“Delpo was a better player than me,” Djokovic said. “He deserved to win.
“In the moment, he came up with some extraordinary tennis. I have to congratulate him.
“It’s very sad and disappointing on my side to go out of a tournament this early.
“But on the other hand, I’m glad a good friend of mine and somebody who has struggled a lot in the last couple of years with injuries is back and playing at this level.”
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