Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro said that he will have “nothing to lose” in his French Open semi-final clash with Rafael Nadal on Friday, after not even knowing whether he would play in the days before the tournament.
The former US Open champion, who almost retired from the sport two years ago after persistent wrist injuries, had said he would make a “last-minute decision” on his Roland Garros participation after suffering a leg injury at the Rome Masters.
But fast-forward 12 days and the affable Del Potro is preparing to take on 10-time champion Nadal in his first French Open semi-final since 2009.
The enormity of the situation clearly dawned on him after beating Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals on Thursday, as he sobbed tears of joy at the side of the court.
“I’m feeling so, so happy to make the right decision to play here. I am doing well,” he said after edging out third seed Cilic 7-6 (7/5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.
“I came here without big expectations, just seeing how my body feels match by match.
“Now I’m [in the] semi-finals, which means something great to me. So I have nothing to lose tomorrow. We’ll see what can I do against the king of clay.”
The fifth seed, who stunned Roger Federer to win the 2009 US Open at the age of 20, said he never imagined that the likes of the 20-time Grand Slam champion and Nadal would still be standing in his path at major tournaments almost a decade later.
“I thought that after nine years I will play a different one, not Rafa or Roger,” he added.
“But all my semi-finals in Grand Slams were against them. The last one in US Open I lost against Rafa. In Wimbledon I lost against [Novak] Djokovic. Here with Federer.
“It’s amazing for the tennis, the tennis world.”
Del Potro will be playing in a Grand Slam semi-final for the fifth time when he steps onto Court Philippe Chatrier, with a place in the final against either surprise package Marco Cecchinato or Dominic Thiem up for grabs.
But reaching such heady heights would have seemed a long way off when he started his 2016 season ranked outside the world’s top 1,000.
“Everybody knows that I was close to quitting this sport two years ago, but then I, for one reason, I never give up,” said Del Potro.
“And I have been trying and trying every day to fix my problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now I’m having a great present, looking forward for the future.”
Nadal has never failed to win the title when reaching the last four at Roland Garros, but knows that Del Potro, who he has lost to five times, is a dangerous opponent.
“Del Potro has achieved great victories this year. He has fantastic potential,” said the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
“I have to play aggressively. If I play defensively and I don’t take intensity, I will be lost.”
Cecchinato has ‘lots in his favour’
World No 72 Cecchinato stunned Roland Garros on Tuesday by following up his surprise wins over top-10 seeds David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta with a breathtaking victory against 12-time major champion Djokovic.
The Italian, who had never won a Grand Slam match before the tournament, faces seventh seed Thiem in the last four.
Gustavo Kuerten clinched the first of his three French Open crowns as a little-known 66th-ranked Brazilian in 1997.
“It’s kind of the same run. The advantage, of course, is you play [with] nothing to lose,” said Kuerten, who went on to become the world No 1.
“You know, you have a lot in [your] favour. And the lack of experience and knowledge of being on these last rounds, that’s always the risk. But I think he’s very enthusiastic.”
But Austrian Thiem will see this as a fantastic opportunity to reach a maiden Grand Slam final, after losing to Djokovic and Nadal at the semi-final stage in each of the last two years in Paris.
“I think for me it’s time to move on to make a great step, because I’m turning 25 [in September]. I’m not that young anymore.”