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.”


Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 21 March 2019
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Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”