The only player who might be more universally loved on the tour than Roger Federer? Juan Martin Del Potro.
The 6’6” giant from Argentina made a name for himself in 2009 when he beat Federer in the US Open for his first Grand Slam title. The win seemed to portend what was to come.
But the story didn’t exactly go as planned. Multiple wrist surgeries sidelined him for much of the next seven years, a big reason that, when he does play, he’s a perennial feel-good story. Fans are just happy to see him on a court.
Del Potro also has a way of connecting with a crowd. He isn’t shy about letting them in. If he’s tired, he has a whole hang-dog routine where he’ll drag his feet, loll his tongue, or even take a breather next to a fan in the first row for effect. In his win from two-sets-down to Dominic Thiem at last year’s US Open, the crowd was a big factor in him finding the emotional energy to pulling it out.
Better still was the crowd’s reaction the year before as he stared down an emotional loss to Stan Wawrinkia in the 2016 US Open quarterfinals. Scenes like this are rare:
He’s also extremely popular with the players. When this scene played out in his match with Nicolas Almagro at the French Open, it was clear why.
All that said, tournament wins have been hard to come by for Del Potro. Claiming the Mexican Open title in Acapulco over the weekend—and beating three Top 10 players in the process—is the biggest tournament he has won since Basel in 2013.
Seeing one of the good guys hoist a trophy at long last is a rewarding sight for all:
He’s always in the mix at big tournaments like the upcoming Indian Wells and Miami Open, but with his huge win in Acapulco and the likes of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal missing in action (not to mention Novak Djokovic’s uncertain status), Del Potro enters the spring hard-court season less as a dark horse and more as a favorite to win one of these events. Well, he and the other guy riding an all-time wave of popularity. Federer.