Injury-hit Juan Martin del Potro bid an emotional farewell to his fans after losing what was possibly his last match on the tennis circuit.
The 33 year-old former U.S. Open champion lost 6-1 6-3 to fellow Argentine Federico Delbonis in the first round of the Argentina Open.
He was uncertain about plans to play next week in Brazil
Del Potro has been suffering from a knee injury and told fans on Saturday that this month’s tournaments in Argentina and Brazil would be his last.
Del Potro’s defeat on Tuesday came in his first match since March 2019 and he hung his bandana on the net afterwards in what the adoring home crowd and media interpreted as a final farewell.
Asked if fans would see him play again, Del Potro told reporters: “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, because the pain in my knee is very high.
“But I will keep doing a big effort to fix the knee, and if I get that, maybe I will have another chance to play.”
In what was deemed to be his final match in front of his home crowd, Del Potro’s mother, Patricia, was in the stands for the first time in his professional career to watch the former world number three play.
Other members of his family, former and current players were also among the spectators at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.
An emotional Del Potro failed to hold back tears before stepping onto the line to serve at 5-3 down in the second set as familiar chants of “Ole Delpo” reverberated around the stands.
“It’s difficult to explain how I felt on the court. So many emotions,” he said. “The atmosphere was crazy, the people were crazy, and I had one of my best ever matches in my career with the crowd.”
With one of the game’s heaviest forehands, Del Potro has won 22 ATP titles since turning professional in 2005, including his only Grand Slam triumph in New York in 2009.
When asked after Tuesday’s match if he could manage the Rio Open next week, a tearful del Potro was unclear.
“I was planning on it … but I think … as I said, I gave everything until the last point and today I hope I can sleep without pain in my leg after two years,” he said on court.
“That is what I am going to try and do from tomorrow. It’s very hard to play this sport with the discomfort I have. Today I have my whole life ahead of me and I want to live in peace.”
Watch the emotional farewell: