Fatigue catches up with Juan Martin del Potro

The Argentine bows out with a four-set defeat at the hands of Lucas Pouille; Paes & Matkowski lose while Sania & Hingis advance

Juan Martin de Potro, who knocked out Stan Wawrinka earlier, couldn't get past the third round.   -  Reuters

Juan Martin del Potro could have thrown a monkey — One Slam Wonder — off his back at Wimbledon this year. He did come out on Sunday thinking that the road to his second Glam title was closer than he could ever have wished.

Through two years of absence because of a wrist injury, the giant Argentine who shocked Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to win the US Open in 2009, might have dreamed of the biggest prize of all.

But there was one little problem, yet another Lucas Nobody wanted to become a Lucas Somebody.

On Saturday, Sam Querry surprisingly ending the defending champion Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten run at the Majors for over a year might have boosted the hopes of a handful of men who have it in them — or least they thought they did — to win the biggest prize in tennis.

But if dreams die fast in sport, they could not have done any sooner for del Potro who is an icon in his country although his stature is nowhere close to Lionel Messi’s.

“People who knew nothing about tennis started following the game and a lot of youngsters are now playing the sport, thanks to Juan Martin,” an Argentinian journalist told me on Sunday.

But after the biggest shock the nation had endured — the loss in the Copa America final — where god missed a penalty, del Potro’s loss in a match that was carried over from Saturday gave Argentina one more reason to cry.

Lucas Pouille is not the usual French celebrity athlete. He could walk around the Eiffel Tower unmolested, with not a single autograph request. Yet, Pouille, who led two sets to one when play was abandoned on Friday, handled one of the biggest serves in the game with great confidence to beat del Potro 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 7-5, 6-1.

The Argentine, who has improved marginally on his second serve, was completely outplayed by Pouille; del Potro won just 15 of 42 points in the crucial fourth set.

A lot of people were talking about del Potro’s backhand — his weak flank — but considering that they were playing on grass, the Argentine actually had a bad day at the office.

“Well, I am feeling well after playing tennis after almost three years, but in this situation it is tough to say something positive because I lost a tough match.” said del Potro.

Meanwhile, after winning yet another match with Martina Hingis, Sania Mirza said that the secret to their success was that they complimented each other very well. The pair beat Eri Hozumi and Miyu Kato 6-3, 6-1 in the second round.

“Martina is the best volleyer in the game and that makes a lot of difference,” she said.

In the second round of the men’s doubles, Leander Paes, playing with Marcin Matkowski, lost to John Peers and Henri Kontinen.

In the women’s singles, Serena Williams, who has lost in the final in the last two Grand Slams, beat Annika Beck 6-3, 6-0 in 51 minutes.

This championship is special for a variety of reasons. For one thing, long before the entry hour, very, very long before the ticket counters opened, the crowds outside the gates where the tickets are sold make the whole place look like a generally crowded underground station during the peak hour.

It is a tournament in which nobody thought the Committee would decide to play on the Middle Sunday. In the event, how lucky are the ones without tickets, the ones who were queuing from the pre-dawn hours. You can imagine men and women jostling for space on the platform of the London Underground and, when their train arrives, make a quick dash into the compartment.

The English are generally an organised lot and are used to playing by the rules of the game even if it means a Centre or No.1 Court ticket eludes them or they are unable to make it into the train before it departs.

Then again, it takes a special talent to board the train — muscle power excluded — and most regulars make find their way in cleverly. It calls for experience, dexterity and a rare kind of self-confidence.

All these virtues are very much valuable both in and outside the gates at Church Road, SW 19, the venue of the most celebrated tennis championship in the world.

Inside the premises, a few journeymen who managed to make it through to the second week may be expected to be a touch nervous, yet some of them might be brimming with confidence, no matter who their opponents are.

On the other hand, to a handful of megastars, the week beginning on the second Monday is the week that matters. The second Monday is the day when the championship really begins for them.

“If you are a top player and you are confident of going all the way, this is the time to play to your potential or even try and exceed it,” said the late Tim Gullikson to me several years ago.

But things have changed dramatically at Wimbledon without a long-time visitor thinking that the Wimbledon Committee has just tinkered with this and that, and most things remain the same.

Of course, of all the Grand Slams, Wimbledon may be the one endowed with the quality of unchanging character.

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