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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Juan Martin del Potro

Juan Martin del Potro served 70 percent, hit 10 aces and saved all seven break points he faced in a 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over 14th-seeded Dominic Thiem.

Photo credit: Mutua Madrid Open

Juan Martin del Potro made his Madrid return one to remember.

Del Potro denied three set points in the 10th game surging past 14th-seeded Dominic Thiem, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in his Madrid Open opener. After completing an emotional victory, del Potro plopped down in his court-side seat and shed tears of joy.

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"It's quite difficult because I was fighting one of the best opponents that I can have. I knew how well I was playing and my conditions these days, and I am missing a lot of what I need be to at the highest level, the level I want to be, because I've been through very difficult things in the past years," del Potro told the media in Madrid. "First of all, being in a competition like this, for me, it's a lot of merit. If I'm able to win matches, even better. Even more emotional. That's why sometimes it's difficult to handle the emotions. But I think that today I have a lot of joy.

"I'm very happy. It's because some great things are happening to me right now. I wasn't crying because I had to leave or because my wrist were hurting or anything. I was just very happy about it."

Playing critical points with aggression, del Potro served 70 percent, hit 10 aces and saved all seven break points he faced.

Hitting his two-handed backhand with more conviction than he has in recent tournaments, del Potro did major damage on big points cracking his forehand down the line.

It was del Potro's first appearance in Madrid since 2012 when he reached the semifinals bowing to seventh-ranked Tomas Berdych.

It was also the 2009 US Open champion's best performance since launching his comeback from his latest wrist surgery at the Delray Beach Open in February. Del Potro said he's encouraged by the progress he's made on his two-handed backhand and was willing to put his surgically-repaired wrist to the test on that stroke.

"I think I improved a lot since my last match in Munich. Today I hit (the backhand) really well," del Potro said. "I'm growing up with my backhand. I'm getting confidence with my backhand, too. I need more matches, more progress with these guys to improve that shot. I'm still calm. I can keep patient. I want to be hitting backhands in a good way."

Two days after Thiem lost a pulsating 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (4) thriller to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Munich final, both men were bounced from their Madrid openers.

Pablo Cuevas used a single serve break to squeeze out a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory over the 25th-ranked German.

Nick Kyrgios set up a second-round grudge match with Stan Wawrinka. Kyrgios rocketed 16 aces in a 7-6 (7), 6-4 triumph over Guido Pella.

Jack Sock rallied for a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Benoit Paire. The 26th-ranked American will play del Potro in the second round.

The 274th-ranked Argentine struck deep, heavy shots to threaten Thiem midway through the first set.

Thiem saved break points in the seventh game, erasing the first with a forehand strike down the line and the second with a forehand swing volley, holding for 4-3.

Serving at 4-5, del Potro denied two set points. Backing up an acute-angled kick serve, del Potro plastered a forehand winner down the line saving a third set point. Thumping an ace, the Argentine thwarted the danger to level.

Drilling a pair of forehand winners then smacking an ace, del Potro seized a 4-2 lead in the tie breaker. Thiem answered with three consecutive points, including an ace of his own, for 5-4.

A massive serve brought del Potro to set point. When Thiem missed a forehand, del Potro bellowed a loud "vamos!" snatching the 61-minute first set.

While Thiem's legs lacked their usual spring after his extended run in Munich, he faced bigger problems in del Potro. Thiem could not break down the Argentine's backhand and when he tried challenging the forehand, del Potro often had definitive answers.

A deep drive drew a running forehand error as del Potro broke for a 2-0 second-set lead.

Serving for the second round, del Potro erased a pair of break points sealing an impressive win in one hour, 44 minutes.

No. 13-seeded Gael Monfils permitted just five points on his first serve downsizing Kevin Anderson, 6-4, 6-1 in 68 minutes. Monfils has won all three meetings with third-round opponent Cuevas, including a five-set victory at the 2015 Roland Garros.

Fabio Fognini swept Bernard Tomic, 6-2, 6-4, in 55 minutes setting up a second-round date with sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori, a former Madrid Open finalist.


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