Tennis

Del Potro gave sad Argentine fans something to cheer about at Miami Open

Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, greets fans after defeating Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-4-6-2, during the men's single fourth round at the Miami Open Tennis tournament 2018, on Tuesday, March 27.
Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, greets fans after defeating Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-4-6-2, during the men's single fourth round at the Miami Open Tennis tournament 2018, on Tuesday, March 27. pportal@miamiherald.com

There was one place in the world Tuesday afternoon that Argentine sports fans were happy: Stadium Court at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, where resurgent Juan Martin del Potro advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Filip Krajinovic.

Hundreds of fans decked in Argentina’s albiceleste (sky blue) and white soccer jerseys chanted “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole! Del-Po! Del-Po!” as the fifth-seeded del Potro rallied from down 4-1 in the first set in windy conditions. When he secured the victory, they proudly waved their striped flags.

It was an otherwise somber day for Argentine fans, whose World Cup-bound soccer team was trounced 6-1 by Spain in a friendly in Madrid. It matched their worst defeats in history — 6-1 to Czech Republic in the 1958 World Cup and 6-1 to Bolivia in a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

As del Potro sat down for his postmatch interview, reporters asked him what he thought of the soccer loss. He shook his head in disbelief.

The conversation quickly shifted to a happier topic, del Potro’s return to the top 10 after four wrist surgeries. He had slid to No. 1,045 in the rankings during his time away from the tour. But he is back among the elite, has won 14 matches in a row, 25 of the past 29 sets, and saved three championship points against Roger Federer to win a title at Indian Wells, California.

With injured Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray skipping the Miami Open, and Federer and Novak Djokovic making early exits, del Potro is one of the biggest crowd-pleasers left in the men’s draw.

He faces Canadian Milos Raonic on Wednesday night in the quarterfinals. Del Potro beat Raonic 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals at Indian Wells two weeks ago.

“I think will be a different match than the Indian Wells, because we have different conditions,” del Potro said. “Milos, he’s improving his game every day, and he’s playing very solid in this tournament, and I think he has the potential to win the tournament, as well. It will be an interesting match to see how I feel and how my level is.”

The match, which won’t begin before 9 p.m., follows an intriguing women’s quarterfinal between Venus Williams and qualifier Danielle Collins, a two-time NCAA champion from the University of Virginia. There is little doubt a huge contingent of Argentine fans will show up to support their beloved DelPo.

Asked about his Miami fan base, del Potro smiled and said: “They are so nice. I got too much love from them. I am excited to keep winning, to stay longer and play in this tournament. I know it will be the last time here in Key Biscayne, and I think playing here is a special tournament for all the South American players.”

He said he will miss the Key Biscayne venue when the tournament moves to Hard Rock Stadium next year.

“I know many Argentinian fans live in Key Biscayne, and they are so close to the stadium,” del Potro said. “That’s why they come every night, every day, and I will miss them, for sure. I will miss the facilities for us, playing in Key Biscayne. I always stay in Brickell area, and it’s very close to me. But we will see what’s happens next year. I saw some pictures and that could be great, too.”

On the women’s side, American Sloane Stephens rolled past former No. 1 Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2. Stephens, the surprise U.S. Open winner in 2017, will move up to No. 10 in the rankings with the victory. It is a milestone Stephens has been chasing for quite some time.

“Finally,” Stephens said. “Oh, my God. I’m so tired of them being, like, career-high ranking, No. 11. Like, finally I can move in there. That’s really exciting. It’s awesome. Obviously, something I have wanted to do for a while, and it’s really not easy. Getting to 11 was hard, and so getting into the top 10 is pretty special. I’m super excited about that. Something I have worked hard for for a long time.”

In other matches Tuesday, American John Isner, the 14th seed, knocked off No. 2 Marin Cilic 7-6 (7-0), 6-3; Borna Coric of Croatia beat Canadian Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-4; Hyson Chung of South Korea defeated Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-4, 6-3; and Kevin Anderson eliminated American Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

Isner said although the draw seems wide open with so many big names missing, he doesn’t want to look too far ahead.

“You think about that too much, things won’t really go your way,” he said. “Like the Masters Series event in Paris last year, I was the highest-ranked person left in the semifinals, and I didn’t win it [smiling]. Everyone is so good. You throw rankings out the window, really. So many good players here.

“But it’s a bit unusual, for sure, that I think the top three seeds are all out. So, it’s an opportunity for a lot of players, but we’ll see what happens.”

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