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Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro broke down during a press conference where he broke the tennis world’s heart by hinting he was heading towards retirement.
Just last week, the 33-year-old Argentinian appeared to be heading for a long awaited return to the court, sharing a picture via Instagram of him serving on the clay courts in Buenos Aires.
In Spanish, he wrote: “How nice it will be to see them again!!”
It sparked plenty of hope the star was about to have one last comeback.
He is currently world No. 757, having been a high of World No. 3 in 2018 as he hasn’t played since fracturing his kneecap in June 2019 at Queen’s in London.
Since that injury, he has undergone four surgeries on his knee.
He had also broken his knee at the Shanghai Masters in October 2018 and had wrist injuries that hampered his progress as a player.
But while he got his fans’ hopes up with his Instagram post, they came crashing back to earth during an emotional press conference when he revealed his comeback was “more a farewell than a return” to tennis.
Del Potro, who famously obtained the 2009 US Open as the first player not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic to collect a grand slam since the 2005 Australian Open.
He denied Federer his 16th title at the time.
The next non-Big Three player to win was Andy Murray at the 2012 US Open.
But Del Potro appears to have just two events left as he will play the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires and in Brazil.
Del Potro stated his knee had seen him “living a nightmare”.
“It’s more a farewell than a return. I’ve tried different treatments and seen doctors for many years, and I never imagined retiring from tennis without playing,” he said at a press conference.
“I couldn’t find a better tournament than Buenos Aires to be able to do it. After this week, I’ll think about the future.”
During the tearful press conference, del Potro said he wasn’t expecting a miracle, despite holding the door open.
“I always overcame everything. I don’t want to close the door. I’m very excited because I love tennis,” del Potro said. “Today I have to be honest so as not to give the wrong message, although in two and a half years I gave messages that were not in line with my reality.
“If I’m honest I have to say that I’m not here for a miraculous comeback like on other occasions. I know the limitations I have physically, and we’ll see later.”
He later added: “With this injury I always said I wouldn’t give up. The farewell had to be on a court and not in a conference.”
His extended time away from the game may have denied Del Potro the chance to elbow his way in among the space monopolised by Nadal, now a 21-time major winner, and 20-time Slam champions Federer and Djokovic.
But his 10 career wins over number one-ranked players are the most by any player never to hold the number one ranking — and further proof, Djokovic said, that Del Potro belonged among the elite.
Del Potro won the last of his 22 tour titles at the Indian Wells Masters in 2018.
He took silver and bronze at the Olympics and helped his country win the Davis Cup in 2016. Del Potro last played the Argentina Open as a 17-year-old in 2006, losing in the first round to former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero.