Novak Djokovic aims to cut ‘gentle giant’ Juan Martin Del Potro down to size in US Open final

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after his win against Japan's Kei Nishikori during the Men's semifinals at the US Open. (AFP)
Updated 10 September 2018
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Novak Djokovic aims to cut ‘gentle giant’ Juan Martin Del Potro down to size in US Open final

NEW YORK: Novak Djokovic hailed Juan Martin del Potro as a “gentle giant” but said he will have no hesitation in attempting to cut his close friend down to size in Sunday’s US Open final.
Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 champion, will be looking to complete the Wimbledon-US Open double for a third time when he tackles the 2009 winner in New York with a 14th major and a place among the game’s greats within touching distance.
And he will start the heavy favorite, boasting a 14-4 record over the Argentine who will be playing in just his second Grand Slam final.
But whatever the outcome on Sunday, Djokovic insists their personal bond will remain strong.
“He’s a gentle giant,” the 31-year-old Serb said of the 6’6” Del Potro affectionately dubbed the “Tower of Tandil,” after his home town.
“He really is. He’s very tall, has a big game, but at the same time he nurtures the right values in life. He cares about his family. He cares about his friends. He respects everyone.
“He fights every match from the first to the last point. I think people can relate to that and appreciate what he brings to the tennis. He treats others the way he wants others to treat him. I think that’s why people love him.”
While Djokovic can pull level with Pete Sampras on 14 majors — and move to within three of Rafael Nadal and six back from Roger Federer — Del Potro’s career at the Slams has been torpedoed by a series of wrist injuries.
A number of surgeries pushed him to the brink of retirement in 2015 when his world ranking slumped to 581 in the world. Now he goes into Sunday’s final at a career-high three.
Djokovic has never lost to Del Potro at a Grand Slam, winning twice at the US Open in 2007 and 2012, Roland Garros in 2011 and an epic five-set semifinal at Wimbledon in 2013.
But Djokovic will not under-estimate the 29-year-old who was two sets to love ahead of Nadal in the semifinals on Friday when the world number one retired with a knee injury.
“We have never played in the final of a Grand Slam and he’s playing the tennis of his life, without a doubt, in the last 15 months,” said the Serb.
Meanwhile, Nadal — whose injury meant Del Potro made it to the final — has vowed to come back from his Flushing Meadows heartbreak.
“I know what I have,” he said after limping off Arthur Ashe Stadium having lost two sets to third-seeded Argentine Juan Martin del Potro. “I know what is going on with the knee. I know how I have to work to be better as soon as possible.”
“All my career everybody said that because of my style, I will have a short career,” he noted. “I’m still here.
“I’m still here because I love what I am doing. I still have the passion for the game.
“I’m going to keep fighting and working hard to keep enjoying this tour and keep having chances to compete at the highest level. So that’s all.”


Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

Updated 26 June 2019
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Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

  • The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy

RENNES, France: Tears were still flowing from Saki Kumagai’s eyes more than 30 minutes later.
With victorious Dutch rivals passing her on the way out of the stadium, Japan’s captain seemed to find solace in speaking about the penalty long after it cost her team a place in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.
With Tuesday night’s game entering the 90th minute locked at 1-1, Kumagai’s outstretched left arm blocked the shot Vivianne Miedema had aimed into the right side of the net.
“It had my hand for sure,” Kumagai said. “It’s difficult to accept but it’s also sad. I know that is football.”
Referee Melissa Borjas pointed to the penalty spot and Lieke Martens netted her second goal of the game in the 90th minute to seal a 2-1 victory that sent the Netherlands into the quarterfinals for the first time.
“We have made history,” Martens said. “I’m not usually taking the penalties but I felt really good this game. I asked Sherida Spitse if I could take it and she gave it directly to me and I felt quite relaxed about it.”
The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy on Saturday after going one stage further than their Women’s World Cup debut four years ago.
“We were standing in the circle after the match and we were so happy, yelling at each other,” Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman said. “We were saying, ‘Let’s continue writing history.’“
It is journey’s end for Japan, which won the 2011 tournament and was the runner-up four years later.
The strength of the second-half display counted for nothing.
As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. A backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.
But the post, crossbar and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal thwarted Japan’s pursuit of a winning goal.
“I think we lacked the clinical edge,” Japan coach Asako Takakura said. “We have to accept the result, we’re defeated, we’re very disappointed and for all the players I feel very sorry for them and frustrated.”
With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women’s World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.
“It’s really tough to be here,” Netherlands forward Miedema said. “Sometimes it kind of feels like a Euros.”
That is a title already won by this team, thanks to Miedema’s goals in the final two years ago on home soil.
The fans won’t have far to travel for the World Cup quarterfinal, with Valenciennes around two hours’ drive from the Netherlands.
It will be another chance for the orange-clad fans who danced and sang their way in a convoy to the stadium on Tuesday to stamp their mark on this tournament.
They were certainly given a game to savor, and an audacious opening goal.
Martens flicked in the opener after evading her marker to meet a corner and send the ball through the legs of Yuika Sugasawa into the net.
Sugasawa had a quick chance to tie, only to hit the post. But Japan did equalize by completing an intricate move.
Hina Sugita squared across the penalty area to Yuika Sugasawa, who passed back to Mana Iwabuchi on the edge of the penalty area. After holding off Jackie Groenen on the turn, Iwabuchi slipped the ball through to Hasegawa, who was free to delicately dink a shot over Van Veenendaal into the corner of the net.
It was some way to make the most of a first shot on target for a team that failed to score in two of its three group stage games.
But parity nearly didn’t last long.
Miedema received the ball from Shanice van de Sanden but with only Ayaka Yamashita to beat struck straight at the Japan goalkeeper.
Van Veenendaal came to the rescue of the Dutch in the second half by denying Emi Nakajima as Japan chased the winner.
“Japan is a world class team and you saw that today,” Miedema said. “In the second half you can see they have loads of quality on the pitch.”