Talent from Tandil

Argentine village kid Juan Martin Del Potro rocked the tennis world in New York


Gone was the russet beard that had sprouted across his cheeks through two weeks of the US Open. And gone was the gritty buccaneer look that so perfectly complemented his savage forehand.  In the cool light of day, as he ate some pastry and doodled on a pad, del Potro was just a fresh-faced 20-year-old making sense of his first Grand Slam title. "I didn't sleep much," he said Tuesday morning. "The last two days, it was difficult to relax, to be, I don't know, quiet. But this is part of the game, this is part of the champions. It's unusual for me, but I'm learning from this one."

Over and over, del Potro has watched his final championship point, held his breath as Roger Federer's backhand sailed long, exhaled as he watched himself collapse into tears. And each time, even though the details exist only in a blur of camera flashes and fans, the flood of emotion comes rushing back.

"When I saw the ball going out, my sensations ..." del Potro said, pausing. "It's amazing, I can't explain with words."

When he called his parents Monday night, they barely got past hello before they all started sobbing into their telephones, overcome by emotion more than the 5,000 miles separating them.

"It was difficult to speak, but they are so happy for me," del Potro said. He had asked them to stay in Argentina for the match, leaving only three people in his private box at Ashe on Monday night. The party began in right earnest once he reached his hometown, Tandil, a tiny village in the mountains where del Potro has about 150 relatives.

Like Federer at Wimbledon in 2003, del Potro won the first Grand Slam final he played in, something he never expected when he began the tournament at the tail end of a day session on Louis Armstrong Court. Del Potro's initial goal was to make it into the second week.

"But when I was in the semis, playing against Nadal, I said maybe if I beat Rafa, I can win the tournament," he said. In a season in which he has already played 16 events, del Potro said he was looking forward to taking some time off. It will be four months before he can make his next Grand Slam appearance, at the Australian Open.

Should he play the tournament, he will surely find that his tennis world has changed. The element of surprise that attached the word upset to all of his notable victories is gone, and the true meaning of being a champion will set in -- and it is more than just a schedule jammed with photo opportunities.

"I really like it," del Potro said. "Now people are going to come see my matches, maybe I'll play all my matches on centre court, maybe night sessions. It's going to be great." But he knows just how hard it will be to follow the Open with another title. Though Federer suggested Monday that del Potro could be joining him and Rafael Nadal among the favorites for every Grand Slam, del Potro says he does not yet see himself there.  "They are much better than me at this moment," he said. "But I am working to improve, to close the difference....

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