Dubai Juan Martin del Potro may not harbour great hope of winning this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but the prospect of possibly playing compatriot Diego Maradona again fills him with great enthusiasm.
Del Potro, who is recovering from a left wrist injury, provided one of the highlights of last year’s tournament when he rallied with the football legend and Dubai sports ambassador on Centre Court after his second-round win over India’s Somdev Devvarman.
And the softly spoken Argentine says if his cheerleader-in-chief returns to watch him this year, it would prove a welcome boost as he battles to recover physically and mentally from his debilitating ailment.
The 2009 US Open champion, who plays Devvarman again in the first round this year, told media at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel on Sunday: “Would I like a rematch with Maradona? If he comes, for sure. It’s always a pleasure to have him cheering for me. He’s been here the last two years. We don’t keep in touch as I am travelling around the world and he has a crazy life, but he’s a good tennis player and having Diego Maradona here would be great for the event.”
On a more serious note, Del Potro admitted he is struggling to cope with his injury, which he sustained at last month’s Australian Open and which has required medical treatment in the United States. The world No.5 said: “My wrist is getting better, but I am still not feeling confident to hit my backhand 100 per cent and the injury has affected my slice and drop shots. I need time to work and get muscle again on my arm. It’s not easy mentally.”
Despite his physical travails, can he improve on last year’s semi-final defeat to eventual Dubai champion Novak Djokovic this year? “You have Djokovic and [Roger] Federer and other big names who are favourites for the title,” the 6ft 6ins 25-year-old, who will also play in the doubles with Czech veteran Radek Stepanek to gain further match practice, said.
“I have fans expecting me to go far in this tournament. People in my country are expecting too much [of me] for this season. I am just trying to stay in the top five and top 10.”
Del Potro expects his opening opponent Devvarman, whom he beat 6-4, 6-4 in Dubai year last, to provide him with a tough challenge. “He’s a great player,” he said of India’s top singles star, who won the Delhi Open on Sunday.
Del Potro also endorsed world number two Djokovic’s claim on Sunday that the Dubai event deserves to be upgraded to ATP 1000 Masters status (it is currently has 500 ranking). “I agree with Novak,” he said. “There are very good facilities here and the ground is full for every single match, which makes a beautiful atmosphere for tennis matches.”