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June 2, 2017

Del Potro shows sporting spirit, closes in on Murray clash


June 2, 2017

PARIS: Juan Martin del Potro set up a potential French Open blockbuster against Andy Murray on Thursday after a heartfelt display of compassion towards a stricken rival.

The giant Argentine, no stranger to injury after a career-long battle with wrist problems, made the third round after Spanish opponent Nicolas Almagro quit in tears during the third set of their tie with a left knee injury.

In a moving conclusion on Court Two, Del Potro sat next to a sobbing Almagro, offering him water while patting the head of the inconsolable 31-year-old.

Del Potro had also gone to the Spaniard’s aid when he had collapsed at the back of the court, weeping, just moments earlier.

“I tried to find good words for him at that moment. I say to him, try to be calm. Try to think about his family, his baby,” said Del Potro.

“Sometimes the heart is first more than the tennis match.”

Del Potro, 28, had taken the first set of the second round clash 6-3 before Almagro claimed the next by the same score.

They were locked at 1-1 in the third when Almagro quit.

Del Potro, playing here for the first time in five years after battling a series of wrist injuries, also suffered an injury scare himself when he pulled up, holding his left leg in the second set.

“It’s not easy for me when you have a friend on the other side of the court showing an injury or crying. It was really a bad moment for both, but I wish all the best to him,” added Del Potro.

The former US Open champion goes on to face either world number one Murray or Martin Klizan for a place in the last-16.

Murray, the 2016 runner-up to Novak Djokovic, was tackling fiery Slovak Klizan for a place in the third round.

World number 50 Klizan has already hit the headlines here by being accused of faking an injury in his opener against French wildcard Laurent Lokoli.

Third seed Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, reached the French Open last-32 for the 10th time with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 win over Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine.

Wawrinka will face Italy’s Fabio Fognini for a place in the fourth round.

Japanese eighth seed Kei Nishikori routed France’s Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-0, 7-6 (7/5).

The world number nine will face South Korean Hyeon Chung for a place in the last-16.

Chung, the 21-year-old world number 67, followed up his first round win over US 27th seed Sam Querrey with a 6-1, 7-5, 6-1 victory against Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.

Former US Open champion Marin Cilic, the seventh seed, cruised to a comfortable 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over 32-year-old Konstantin Kravchuk, the Russian world number 129 making his Paris bow.

Unseeded 21-year-old Karen Khachanov of Russia continued his impressive debut, beating Czech 13th seed Tomas Berdych, a semi-finalist seven years ago, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

Big-serving John Isner of the United States fired 21 aces to defeat Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi 6-3, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/2).

Isner and Lorenzi were two of the 30 men in the second round aged over 30 — an Open era record at any Slam.

Czech second seed Karolina Pliskova and third-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, both firm women’s title favourites after the first round exit of world number one Angelique Kerber, look for places in the last-32.

Pliskova has never got beyond the second round in six previous attempts.

The 25-year-old Czech faces Russian world 86 Ekaterian Alexandrova who has never beaten a top-five rival.

Halep, the 2014 runner-up, said she was “50-50” at the weekend due to an ankle ligament injury picked up in Rome.

But after her opening round win over Jana Cepelova she said she was “80 percent recovered”.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina, a quarter-finalist in 2015 and recent Rome champion, made the third round by beating Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, seeded ninth, saw off Belgian qualifier Alison Van Uytvanck 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 6-3.