July 22, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Even Delpo hugs no solace for Almagro

ROLAND GARROS – There are moments on a tennis court where humanity trumps tennis.

They are nearly always sad moments.

Thursday at the French Open, Nico Almagro and Juan Martin del Potro shared one.

The 31-year-old Almagro has been at this 15 years. He’s been in the top 10, won 16 ATP Tour titles and more than $10 million in prize money. He’s accomplished quite a lot in the grand scheme of things and on the ATP Tour these days, 31 is hardly retirement time.

But his last two tournaments have ended in agony and tears because of a left knee injury.

The Spaniard had just won the second set against his old friend del Potro when, early in the third, the knee went – again.

It happened just two weeks ago in Rome when he was playing another good pal, Rafael Nadal. He was forced to stop in the fourth game of the match.

On that occasion, it almost looked like he’d taken a bullet in the knee, when he went down in a heap after what seemed like a fairly innocuous twist as he landed after hitting a shot. It didn’t seem possible Almagro could be back in time for the French Open. But he was. And he won his first-round match against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.

But it was hard-fought, four close sets. And sometimes it’s the day after, and the day after that, that prove the challenge with a not-quite-healed injury.

Deja vu all over again

The Spaniard felt the knee in the second game of the third set. Del Potro headed over to Almagro’s side of the net, but quickly returned to his own side as Almagro indicated he would try to continue.

On what turned out to be the final point of the match, Almagro let a second serve just fly by. He didn’t even see it; his head was already down. He already knew it was over.

You could hear him from the top of Court 2, as the entire court went silent. He fell backwards onto the court, his chest heaving up and down, wracked with sobs.

Throughout, del Potro was as solicitous as it’s possible to be on a tennis court – especially on such a big occasion for both. They were extraordinary scenes. The Argentine stepping over the net to get to the other side to offer what help he could. Helping his old friend back to his chair, and sitting with him to offer comfort once he had retired from the match.

Del Potro is the guy you want around if the worst thing in the world happens to you. But even the power of a Delpo hug wasn’t nearly enough in this case.

Take a look:

DelPo not exactly tip-top

Del Potro knows exactly how it feels to be unable to do what you do best because of an injury. He has lost years to his wrist issues and, indeed, is playing his first French Open in five years.

“I tried to, I don’t know, tried to find a good words for that moment. I say to him, ‘Try to be calm.’ Try to think about his family, his baby. And sometimes the heart is first than the tennis match or the tennis life,” he said afterwards. “It’s an unpleasant feeling. You have a player who is suffering quite a lot. He was in agony. It was tough. I told him that tennis is important, but health matters more than tennis in this case, because I want him to be out of his bad patch.”

The Argentine, who will play No. 1 seed Andy Murray in the third round, wasn’t feeling all that great himself.

He had treatment for a groin injury earlier in the match, and the anti-inflammatories still hadn’t quite kicked in when Almagro made the point moot – at least for this day.

“It happened to me when I was at 3-1 or 4-2 (in the first set). I had to hit the ball with my backhand, and I was wrong-footed. And I felt pain on the groin and lost some mobility. I won the set very quickly,” del Potro said. “In the second set, had to call the doctor so that I could get some anti-inflammatories, and I hoped that the anti-inflammatories could be effective. All of a sudden, he suffered pain on his knee.”

Del Potro said the groin situation is nothing new.

“I know I have one day and a half to feel better. It’s an old problem for me, so my physio knows how to treat that. But I will see,” he said. “Hopefully I can be in good shape, because I would like to play 100 per cent in the third round, and I’m feeling good with my game at this moment. But I need to be in good shape, as well.”

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