Rio de Janeiro: Juan Martin del Potro stunned a tearful Novak Djokovic in an emotional Olympics triumph on Sunday. The 2009 US Open champion who was pushed to the brink of retirement by a series of wrist injuries, downed the top seed 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/2). The giant Argentine had also defeated the 12-time major winner in the bronze medal match at the London Olympics in 2012.
Both players embraced at the net and wept at the end of their centre court duel played out in front of a raucous Argentine and Serb crowd. Yesterday, del Potro returned to the court to defeat Portugal’s Joao Sousa. The giant 27-year-old swept to a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win over Sousa. He goes on to face Japan’s Taro Daniel where he will start favourite.
Del Potro said Sunday’s win was more special than his victory in 2012. He had his first surgery in 2010 but more followed in 2014 and 2015 when he played just six events. “This victory is bigger than last time because I know how tough it was to come back from three surgeries,” said the 27-year-old who unleashed more than 40 winners. Tonight I played one of the best matches of my career.”
Del Potro started the day by getting stuck in an elevator for 40 minutes at the athletes village where he had to be rescued by the Argentina handball team. But that inconvenience did not shake the Argentine out of his big-hitting stride.
“Delpo was the better player and he deserved to win. That’s sport,” said world No. 1 Djokovic, whose Olympic singles record is stalled at a bronze from Beijing in 2008. “It’s very sad and disappointing to go out of the tournament this early but I am glad that a good friend of mine, who has struggled with injuries, has won.”
Meanwhile, four-time gold medallist Venus Williams was staring at the end of her 16-year, five-Olympics journey. Williams, 36, and sister Serena suffered their first ever defeat in women’s doubles, a record which boasted 15 successive match wins and golds in Sydney in 2000, Beijing in 2008 and London four years ago.
The 6-3, 6-4 loss to Czech pair Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova came just a day after Venus had been knocked out of the singles in what was her first opening round Olympics loss.
Meanwhile, the Olympic Games casualty count kept creeping upwards. German 13th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber was forced to pull out with a broken foot, handing Slovakia’s Andrej Marti a walkover into the third round.
Romania’s Monica Niculescu gave a walkover to Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova due to a lower back injury. The women’s draw had also to find four last-minute replacements for the first round. Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan withdrew after a row with her federation and was replaced by Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic to quit early when she retired from her match with Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium after dropping the first set. Early action yesterday saw German second seed and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber recover from a 4-1 first set deficit to defeat Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, 6-4, 6-2. It was Kerber’s first win over the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up in three years.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova put out Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4. US seventh seed Madison Keys came out on top against Kristina Mladenovic of France 7-5, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5). Martina Hingis, playing in her first Olympics in 20 years, teamed up with Timea Bacsinszky to reach the women’s doubles second round. The Swiss pair defeated Coco Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States 6-4, 6-4.
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