Even though he hasn’t played a real tennis match in more than a year and spends time on other pursuits — such as a role with a Pro Padel League team in Miami announced on Tuesday — Juan Martín del Potro is hoping for one final Grand Slam hurrah at the US Open.
The big hitter from Argentina, who won the trophy at Flushing Meadows in 2009, told The Associated Press in a video interview that he wants to “play a farewell match” there in August — if his problematic right knee allows it.
“My goal is to be ready to play an official match in the tournament. I don’t know if I will be 100% or not but, at least, if my last tennis match ever has to be this year, I want (it to be) ... at the U.S. Open,” the 34-year-old del Potro said. “I will work hard for the last time, maybe, in my career, and then you never know. God will decide if I’m ready or not.”
He is best known for using his booming forehand to beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer en route to claiming the championship in New York 14 years ago.
“Juan Martín is a true favorite of U.S. Open fans,” tournament director Stacey Allaster said. “He is a tremendous, yet gracious, competitor and we would be thrilled for this former US Open champion to join us at this year’s tournament.”
Other career highlights include a runner-up finish in at Flushing Meadows in 2018, four other appearances in major semifinals, a Davis Cup title in 2016 and two Olympic medals. A series of wrist operations derailed del Potro early on; more recently, injuries to his right knee sidelined him from June 2019 until one match in Argentina in February 2022.
So he moved on from the tour, although he is not completely disconnected from sports. He is a strategic adviser of the ownership group for Miami’s franchise in the seven-team Pro Padel League, which starts play in May.
Del Potro said he’ll act as “an ambassador” and share what he knows as “an experienced athlete.”
Does he dabble in padel?
“I like to play,” he said. “My big mistake is that I want to play padel (like) a tennis player — completely the same way. (But) when you hit hard, you will lose the point. It’s completely different, tennis and padel. Now I’m getting used to how to play. I need to be coached to improve.”
Tennis coaching might be something del Potro tries down the road, but not for now in any formal way. He does occasionally offer help to players who reach out.
“They just want to know how to hit the best forehand ever,” del Potro said with a smile. “They just call me, and I say, ‘OK, do this, do that.’ But for now, I’m not ready to keep traveling and spend time away from home.”
He picks up a racket every now and then, although he’s been told not to run too much.
In Miami recently — del Potro splits his time between there and Argentina (“I try to follow the summertime,” he explained) — he met up for a coffee with an old pal: countrywoman Gabriela Sabatini, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the 1990 US Open champion.
“We said, ‘OK, let’s go hit some balls.’ We played together for an hour — and it felt like I played a five-hour match,” del Potro said. “I was completely exhausted.”
Otherwise, putting aside tennis, padel or other interests, del Potro likes being somewhat idle after years of travel, practice and competition.
“The most beautiful thing is that I have time for myself,” he said. “I have time to do everything that I want to do — if I want to be at home with family or if I want to go out and drink wine or tequila. ... I have no more pressure in my life.”
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