In perhaps the most stunning match on an already-shocking day, Argentina’s unseeded Juan Martin del Potro defeated World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round of singles at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, 7(7)-6(3), 6-4. It was a rematch of the London 2012 Games Bronze Medal Match – which del Potro won.
Since then, Novak Djokovic has topped the world rankings for over two consecutive years, from July 2014 through the present. He’s won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, including five of the last seven.
He would have achieved the career golden slam by earning a singles gold medal.
Meanwhile, del Potro has played professional tennis on-and-off for the past six years after suffering a debilitating wrist injury in 2010.
Matching each other point-for-point in the first set, the players entered a tiebreak at the one hour-mark. Several long rallies later, del Potro emerged the victor, winning 7(7)-6(3).
The second set was equally tense. The two were tied two games before del Potro established a lead, 3-2. Again, it was point-earned, point-lost. But del Potro held firm, winning a break point to make the match 4-2.
Several great forehands later, del Potro was up 5-4. Employing intensely aggressive tactics, he was up 6-5 on Djokovic – but the Serb managed to even the score, leading to a second set tiebreak.
Del Potro served an ace. Then he scored a point, then another. He won the second tiebreak 7(7)-6(0) to an ecstatic crowd.
The loss comes on the heels of Djokovic’s early third-round exit at Wimbledon 2016 in July.
As a result of his injuries and time away from the court, del Potro certainly wasn’t expected to top Djokovic. But in the context of his story, it’s important to remember that del Potro previously ranked as high as World No. 4 back in 2010. The year before that, he won his first (and so far only) Grand Slam title at the 2009 US Open.
Unfortunately, the 27-year-old del Potro has spent years recovering from multiple surgeries. But Sunday night showed the Argentine still has plenty of fight left in him.
A commentator noted late in the first set – as the World No. 1 men’s singles player was tied with del Potro – that both Djokovic and del Potro were all smiles. But clearly, neither Olympic medalist was happy about the prospect of losing at the Olympics in the first round. So they each played their hearts out.
And then Djokovic lost.