At 6ft 6in tall and with a sledgehammer forehand that not even Roger Federer could handle, Juan Martin del Potro is not easily intimidated. However last month the 21-year-old Argentinian was a bag of nerves on returning to his home city of Tandil, 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, following his victory over Federer in the final of the US Open.
The reason? Del Potro had been handed a microphone as he was presented to a huge crowd from the balcony of Tandil's municipal palace, having just been given the keys of the city following a three-mile drive through the packed streets standing on top of a fire engine.
"Like a president," Del Potro smiled during a break here yesterday in preparations for this week's Shanghai Masters. "I felt nervous. It felt like the whole of my city was listening to me. That was hard, being alone in front of the crowd and speaking to everyone.
"It was an unbelievable moment, coming back to Argentina, to my home town and seeing my parents, my family, my friends and all my city out in the streets with me. It was like a dream. It was a very heart-warming moment, one I will never forget."
Now, however, the world No 5 admits he is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. That showed in his defeat in Tokyo last week to France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the world No 189, in his first match since the US Open.
"I need more experience coping with situations like this," Del Potro said. "Maybe Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal know much better than me what it's like after winning a Grand Slam, but I don't have experience of that. I just want to play here and try to do my best. If I win, so much the better. If I lose, I'll go home and try to relax again and to practise. And when I finish the season, I need a vacation to be in good shape for next year."
Andy Murray, who is recovering from a wrist injury, and Federer, who says that he too is exhausted, are the only big names missing here this week. Murray's absence means the world No 3 will swap places with Novak Djokovic, the No 4, in next week's updated rankings list following the latter's performances in the China Open in Beijing. In yesterday's final Djokovic beat Marin Cilic, who had knocked out Nadal in the semi-finals, 6-2, 7-6. Del Potro will also close the gap on Murray this week, though he cannot overtake him.
Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and Del Potro have already booked their places in the ATP World Tour Finals, the end-of-season showpiece at the O2 Arena in London beginning on 22 November. The chase for the remaining spots in the elite eight-man field is led by Andy Roddick, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco and Nikolay Davydenko, with the points on offer here and in next month's Paris Masters likely to be crucial.
Tsonga took a big step towards qualifying with his 6-3, 6-3 victory over Russia's Mikhail Youzhny in yesterday's final of the Japan Open in Tokyo. The Frenchman needed just 69 minutes to claim his third title of the year. "I will celebrate in the plane to Shanghai with a beer and maybe a little dance," he said afterwards.
In the Tokyo doubles final Britain's Ross Hutchins and his Australian partner, Jordan Kerr, were beaten 6-2, 5-7, 10-8 by the Austrians Julian Knowle and Jurgen Melzer, who are the world's 12th-ranked partnership. It was Hutchins' first final of the year.
Jamie Baker continued his recovery following a serious blood infection when he beat Australia's Robert Smeets 6-1, 6-3 in the final of a Futures event in Happy Valley, South Australia. The 23-year-old Scot has won three of his last four tournaments and reached the final of the other. Having dropped to No 982 in the world rankings three months ago, Baker is currently at No 456 and should return to the top 400 as a result of his latest victory.
Britain's Katie O'Brien, who recently broke into the world's top 100, maintained her good form by reaching the semi-finals of a $100,000 (£63,000) event in Tokyo before losing a deciding set tie-break to Ukraine's Olga Savchuk. Serena Williams will return to No 1 in today's updated world rankings, replacing Dinara Safina, who had held the position for the last six months.Reuse content