New York loves Juan Martin del Potro (pictured above) and he needed them more than ever on Monday evening at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Battling against eighth-seed Dominic Thiem of Austria for a spot in the quarterfinals of the 2017 U.S. Open, Del Potro looked lifeless, winning just three games total through the first two sets on Grandstand. But he launched an incredible comeback, fueled by the packed crowd’s support, knocking off Thiem 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
In what was the match of the tournament, the 2009 champion was completely dominated by Thiem early on. The Austrian broke four times through the first two frames as Del Potro was slowed down physically by a stomach virus. He took a medical timeout halfway through the second set and it almost felt like the Argentine was getting ready to retire from the match.
“It was very important,” he said of the energy he felt from his supporters. “Because I was trying to retire the match in the second set. Then I saw the crowd waiting for more tennis, waiting for my good forehands, good serves. I took all that energy to change in a good way and think about fight and not retire.”
In the third set, he used the Queens’ crowd to bring him back. He completely flipped the script of the match by breaking for a 2-0 lead which got the fans going; the more they cheered, the better he played. A newfound energy guided him to another break of Thiem (pictured below) for 5-1 and all of a sudden the match was into a fourth set.
Del Potro would win the fourth in a tiebreak and broke Thiem late in the deciding fifth set to complete the comeback, dazzling the capacity crowd inside Grandstand, and booking his spot in the U.S. Open’s final eight.
“I did well, and I started to enjoy a little bit more about the fans. I think I did everything well after the third set,” said del Potro. “The crowd enjoyed it with all the points. It was an unbelievable atmosphere.”
It was a heartbreaking defeat in a tough environment for Thiem, who bowed out of last year’s U.S. Open by retiring at the same stage against the same opponent.
“I mean, of course the crowd was on his side,” said Thiem. “But it was a great atmosphere. I mean, we're not playing every day in an atmosphere like this. I was enjoying it actually. I mean, the crowd was not unfair at all. So it was fine. The crowd didn't affect the result of the match.”
In the quarterfinals, Del Potro will face the man who was on the other side of the net for his 2009 title: Roger Federer. The Swiss Maestro looked sharp for the second straight match with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory over 33rd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, setting up a rematch of the five-set epic between the two eight years ago.
“I think we're different players today. We both play different. Because of his surgery, I think his backhand has changed. He uses his slice much more. Just alone because of that, the game would be different,” said Federer. “I'm playing more aggressive, as well, on the return. I play shorter points. I don't use my slice as much, whereas he does now. It's a bit of a change. I think we're both more laid back today. It won't be a final, it will be a quarterfinal. Obviously not as much riding on this match like it was in 2009.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org