Juan Martin del Potro wept. The gentle giant wiped the tears from his face with a towel – over and over again.
His mother, his sister and also the Argentinian icon Gabriela Sabatini suffered in the stands in Buenos Aires when the former world-class player pulled himself together for what was probably the last service game of his checkered career.
The 33-year-old former US Open champion lost to compatriot Federico Delbonis 6-1, 6-3 in his first match in two-and-a-half years, hugged his opponent and then stepped out onto the clay court to a fan ovation.
Del Potro, repeatedly held back by injuries, kissed the net and draped his headband over it. The sign of farewell.
“We may not see each other again,” he said to his fans on the pitch: “I’m happy because my last appearance before you was probably on a tennis court and not at a press conference. I’ll always remember you.”
He had left a small back door open for the ATP tournament in Rio de Janeiro next week before his comeback. But it seems unlikely that he will still play there.
“After this week I will think about the future,” said the professional, who many experts would have believed would have been even more successful without his major physical problems.
Del Potro wins the 2009 US Open
del Potro landed his greatest triumph in New York in 2009. The former world number three also won Olympic bronze in singles in London 2012 and silver in Rio 2016. He won the Davis Cup with Argentina in 2016, but kept struggling with injuries, knees and wrists in particular caused problems.
In June 2019, del Potro suffered a fractured kneecap and hasn’t played since.
Before his highly acclaimed appearance in Buenos Aires, he had hardly entertained any illusions about continuing his career.
“It’s more of a farewell than a comeback. I’ve tried different treatments and seen doctors for many years and I could never have imagined retiring from tennis without playing,” said the “Tower of Tandil”.
The last big appearance in front of his fans meant all the more to the man with the powerful forehand.