With Legg Mason Victory, Del Potro Continues Ascent

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 18, 2008

Before the trophy presentation, some front-row spectators dropped a banner at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. It contained a message addressed to Rafael Nadal, and though it was spray-painted in broken English, its intent came through clearly.

Rafa, the sign warned, enjoy the ride now because it might not last long.

It is probably premature to call out Nadal, who will become the world's No. 1 player today, but what Juan Martín del Potro did at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic this past week should put the rest of the tennis world on notice. The 19-year-old Argentine is the sport's emerging star, and he's playing the best tennis of his career with the U.S. Open a week away.

With a 6-3, 6-3 victory over 22-year-old Serb Viktor Troicki yesterday, del Potro took the Legg Mason championship and extended his win streak to 19 matches. It was his fourth consecutive ATP Tour championship, which is the first time a player's first four titles have been consecutive.

"When you won a final, you feel very, very happy," said del Potro, who is ranked 19th after being ranked 50th at the beginning of the year. "I don't play a lot of finals in my career. This is my fourth, and I won all of them. I don't know if I play some finals [if] I will win again or not. I just want to enjoy this moment. I just want to enjoy this match, this tournament. We will see what happens in the future."

Del Potro did not play cleanly yesterday -- he had 24 unforced errors and seven double faults -- and he had difficulty finishing off the 93rd-ranked Troicki. In fact, del Potro failed on three match points before putting away Troicki with an ace.

"Fortunately, I won one more time," said del Potro, who admitted feeling nervous about keeping alive his streak. "I won another title. It was very good for me."

Citing tightness in his back, Troicki said: "I'm pretty sad that maybe I could not give my 100 percent today. I had some problems with my back. But that's the sport."

Last year's Legg Mason introduced the world to John Isner, then a relatively unknown University of Georgia graduate trying to make it as a pro; he reached the tournament final. This year, with the second-seeded del Potro, it is more of an affirmation as he again asserted his legitimacy.

He outclassed a Legg Mason field largely depleted of marquee players after first-round upsets claimed five of the tournament's top eight seeds. While some of the event's top players -- Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and Feliciano López -- bowed out earlier than expected, del Potro never missed a beat. He ground down opponents, seizing on their miscues and exploiting them with an unerring, almost mechanical pace.

Del Potro has soared after his scintillating play in recent weeks. Ranked 65th at the time, he battled to win his first ATP Tour title in early July in Stuttgart, Germany. A week later, having risen to 44th in the world rankings, he cruised to the Austria Open title. He was ranked 24th by the time he defeated Roddick at last week's Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles.

Asked if he expected to be this good this quickly, del Potro said, "Yes."

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