Juan Martin del Potro On Fire on the Forehand Knocks Novak Djokovic Out Of Rio

del Potro Rio

Photo courtesy of twitter.com

Juan Martin del Potro in the first round of a hard court event, and not just any old hard court event but the Olympics, and in South America, too, as Novak Djokovic found out, is about as tough a draw as tennis delivers. The Tennis Review looks back on a match which brought tennis at the Olympics alive, and brought back to life one of the game’s most vintage shots.

If you were playing a tennis parlor game and the question was “Which tennis shot would you want to play for your life”, and you had recently watched Juan Martin del Potro hit Novak Djokovic out of the Rio Olympics first round 7-6, 7-6,  the question would not even be finished before you answered “The del Potro forehand”.

That forehand drew as much admiration as a tennis shot can- and in the age of Federer that is saying something- as it withstood the pressure Novak Djokovic put on it, and, more crucially, turned the pressure onto the top seed.

The Serbian is always vulnerable to an opponent armed with an aggressive arsenal and mind-sight, and del Potro’s forehand and his willingness to step inside the court and up to the net threatened to out-play Djokovic from the very first point.

del Potro’s forehand did not falter once as it hit through the Serbian. The Argentine played so loose with his signature shot that you could have been mistaken for thinking that he really was playing at an exhibition- the view of some of tennis at the Olympics- and not for his own personal pride, and, even more crucially, and those who remember del Potro in tears as he earned Olympic Bronze for Argentina in London 2012, his country.

Not only did the forehand perform, the del Potro backhand held up to the Djokovic onslaught of slice, spins, and depth. del Potro rallied with Djokovic on that side, waiting for the right moment to hit the forehand inside out, pounced, earned the short ball, and then hit a winning shot or forced an error. The Argentine did not always have to wait, though, to work his way round to the forehand- time and again, Djokovic tired of hitting backhand to backhand, and, perhaps sensing he was not going to break down the del Potro weakness, decided to go for the strength, only to find that was not for the taking, either.

All the way to the tiebreak tennis fans were treated to del Potro’s inch perfect hitting and strategy, and the sight of a Djokovic unable to work his way to a break point on the del Potro serve, and at 2-2, the Argentine attacked, coming to the net, and forcing Djokovic into error. At 6-4, a forehand winner down the line earned the first set for del Potro before a crowd who were thriving as much as del Potro was at the sight of him hitting his best form since his comeback earlier this season.

The onslaught from the Argentine continued into the second set as del Potro held break point at 1-0, but Djokovic never let del Potro break into a winning stretch, staying with him all the way to another tiebreak.

With Djokovic a tiebreak away from his much yearned for goal of Olympic Gold being snatched from him, the world No. 1 decided if he was going down, he would go down on the attack. At 0-1, on both his service points, Djokovic approached the net, but he did so by hitting to the delPotro forehand, and each time a winner, unsurprisingly considering how strong del Potro was on that side, passed him at the net.

At 6-2, del Potro serving, the Argentine crunched his forehand over and over, but it was not another thrilling winner or forced error that earned him a famous victory- it was a forehand that clipped the net and fell too short for Djokovic to track down.

Anyone who doubted how much the Olympics means to some tennis players will only have to see how Djokovic and del Potro embraced at the net and left the court to understand the emotions the occasion produces- the hug they shared, like the last time they met playing for medals, at London 2012, and the tears both men shed as they waved their thanks, and goodbyes, to the crowd were what one would expect of a slam final not the first round of an event played for no points or prize money but for Gold, silver or bronze, medals which may mean little to those who stayed away, but for those who came, mean far more than their individual weight, but the sum of all the medals of their countrymen combined.


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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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