London: Juan Martin del Potro is hoping to turn tennis’ Big Four into a quintet in 2013.
The big-hitting Argentine’s season ended Sunday when he wasted a one-set lead against Novak Djokovic to lose 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semi-finals of the ATP finals. But his strong end to the year has made Del Potro confident he can once again challenge the sport’s biggest names for Grand Slam titles next season - like when he won the 2009 US Open before a serious wrist injury caused a lengthy layoff.
Since then, Djokovic and Andy Murray have joined Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in dominating the sport - and those four have shared every Grand Slam title since Del Potro’s victory at Flushing Meadows.
Judging by his recent form, the Argentine may be ready to break into that group again. “I’m getting closer every day,” Del Potro said. “Maybe that could be my big challenge for next year, my big goal, trying to fight (for all the Grand Slams) with this group. You know, they are winning all the Grand Slams - Novak, Federer, Rafa and now Murray. I would like to be part of those names in the Grand Slams.”
Many thought he would permanently be part of that group after beating Federer in the US Open three years ago. But he missed most of the next season because of wrist surgery, and has struggled to re-establish himself at the top since. He wasted a two-set lead against Federer in the French Open quarter-finals this year, and then lost to the Swiss star again in an epic Olympic semi-final that ended 19-17 in the third set.
But he rebounded to beat Djokovic in the bronze-medal match and then defeated Federer in the final of his home town tournament in Basel last month. He beat Federer again here in London on Saturday to clinch a spot in the semi-finals, becoming the first player in 10 years to defeat the Swiss great in back-to-back indoor events.
And his booming forehand had Djokovic in trouble, too, before the top-ranked Serb found his stride in the second set. Djokovic, for one, has no doubts that Del Potro will be back to fight for more major titles.
“He’s definitely one of those players behind the big four that can challenge for winning a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “Next to him it’s obviously (David) Ferrer that had a fantastic year, the best year of his career. So there are players, and he’s probably one of them.”
While Del Potro couldn’t end the year with another title, his latest results bode well for next year.
“These kinds of matches give me illusions (dreams) for the next season,” Del Potro said. “I beat Roger yesterday. I was close to beat Nole (Djokovic) today. I think I’m playing good. I don’t know if I play better or not than 2009. But being (in) the semi-finals in this tournament is so big for me. It’s still Federer, Djokovic, Murray and me. Was the same four players (in) the Olympics and in the US Open.”
Nadal missed those events, and the ATP finals, with a knee injury but is hoping to be fully recovered by the start of next year. Del Potro is also looking forward to some rest after another grueling season.
He said he wasn’t planning on even watching Monday’s final in London, or any other tennis over the next few weeks for that matter.
“I will be watching soccer,” he said.