Juan Martin Del Potro’s Sydney International title defence is over after with Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin outmuscled the Argentine with a straight-sets victory on Thursday.
Del Potro, who was playing only his third match in nearly a year after a career-threatening injury to his wrist, lost in two tie breaks against the world No.66.
The former US champion, whose ranking slipped to 338 while he was recovering from major surgery, had enjoyed an encouraging first two rounds on the comeback trail, taking down Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky and the top seed Italian Fabio Fognini.
But Del Potro could not find a way to get ahead of Kukushkin, with neither player’s serve broken and no break points, during their quarter final clash on the showcourt in Sydney Olympic Park.
Both players traded holds in the opening set, forcing it to a tie break. Del Potro took the mini-break after a volley error from Kukushkin but lost it by hitting a forehand well out. Kukushkin pulled ahead and with a celebratory first pump took the opener 7-6 (5) in just under an hour.
The second set progressed as a mirror image of the first with the players again dominating their serves and neither managing a break. In the nail-biting tie break, a Del Potro error gave Kukushkin the edge he need as he seized the lead 3-2.
Despite an enthusiastic cheer squad rallying from the stands for Del Potro, Kazakhstan’s top player stormed ahead taking the game on a service winner and the set 7-6.
The two had crossed paths on the professional tour only once, with Del Potro defeating Kukushkin in the quarter finals of the Davis Cup in 2011.
The former world no 4 has made a remarkable return to professional test this week but said his wrist had hurt during the match against Kukushkin.
Del Potro said Kukushkin played “very smart” targeting his backhand, and playing slices.
“I served well, but my wrist hurts a little bit more than yesterday, and I couldn’t hit harder than my last match,” Del Potro said.
“I got lucky playing three matches in this tournament against good players. I’m still here, I’m still alive. I feel tired, but okay.”
The Tower of Tandil, as Del Potro is nicknamed, entered the tournament as the wildcard after winning the final the previous year against Australia’s Bernard Tomic.
Following on from that win he had a second round exit in the Australian Open last year and played in two more tournaments before being sidelined by his wrist injury.
Del Potro said he was still building towards full fitness but will not lighten his training load ahead of the Australian Open on Monday. The 26-year-old still has to undergo lengthy treatments on his injury and rehab regimes before and after matches.
“I need to keep training, and training hard every day,” Del Potro said.
“I don’t have a magic solution. Just be patient, stay calm, and do my best every day to do a big effort to come back. This is my biggest challenge on my new career again.
“We go day by day. It’s dangerous for me if I’m looking forward for the next tournaments or the next month.”
Del Potro said he was at least looking forward to catching up with some old friends in Melbourne.
“I want to meet also Federer, Djokovic, these guys, because I miss them when I was at home. I only speak with them on WhatsApp or by phone. Now I will meet the biggest players of this sport again.”
Kukushkin, who reached the second round in the Brisbane International, will play in the quarter finals on Friday.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.