In many ways, the tennis competition at the Rio Olympics was like a fifth major this year, and it provided a ton of momentum for the three men’s medal winners who will be competing in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Gold medalist Andy Murray of Britain faces Japanese bronze medalist Kei Nishikori in the afternoon match, but center stage at night is reserved for Argentina’s resurgent silver medalist Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion who is ranked No. 142 but got into this tournament as a wild-card entry while coming back from wrist surgery. He faces Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, who is No. 3 in the world but lost to del Potro at Wimbledon.
That win over Wawrinka kicked del Potro’s comeback into high gear, and he built on it at Rio with upsets of No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Rafael Nadal before losing to No. 2 Murray for the gold. “I didn’t expect to be in the quarters in my second Grand Slam after my comeback,” del Potro said. “I’m so happy to be a part of the last eight. Everything can happen, so I will try to be there.”
Describing what his Olympic performance did for his confidence, del Potro said, “It was very, very important because I start to believe in myself. I’m feeling aggressive with my game. I’m feeling competitive in front of all the players. I think I’m in good shape to see the future.”
Del Potro missed nearly a year of tennis after his fourth wrist operation. He’s adjusted his backhand to relieve stress on the wrist and was hitting more slices when he defeated Wawrinka on Wimbledon’s lawns. Del Potro can’t use the slice as much on hard courts, but he said his normal backhand speed is returning.
Wawrinka noted it will be his first meeting against del Potro on hard courts. “He’s playing really strong,” Wawrinka said. “In the Olympics, he was beating top guys. It’s going to be important to try to dictate and be aggressive.”
Murray is a clear favorite in the other quarterfinal with a 7-1 record against Nishikori, including a win in Rio to reach the gold-medal final. But Murray cautioned, “(Nishikori) plays well in New York. He’s made his only Slam final here. He beat Novak here. I played a really good match against him a few weeks ago. I’ll need to do that again. He plays extremely well on hard court.”