Juan Martin del Potro probably thought his day couldn't get much worse. But that was before he saw his group for the ATP World Tour Finals.
The Argentine was almost an hour late for his press conference on Saturday at London’s O2 arena after his suitcase was stolen at Gard du Nord station in Paris.
“I had to take a different train so lost a couple of hours talking with French police. Someone asked for my autograph and I turned around and they took my suitcase. I don’t have anything with me now,” said Del Potro when asked what had taken him so long.
I have my rackets and clothes but nothing else. I lost personal things – my rosary beads from the Pope blessing me in Rome - that's important to me
"I have my rackets and clothes but nothing else. I lost personal things – my rosary beads from the Pope blessing me in Rome – that’s important to me. The other things don’t matter. Also my passport and documentation… It’s over now and I'm safe so it's fine.”
The gift from fellow Argentine Pope Francis – the first Latin American to lead the Roman Catholic Church – is likely to be a massive loss for a religious player who crosses himself on clinching victory.
Del Potro had been on his way to London following his quarter-final loss to Roger Federer in the Paris Masters on Friday. With the tournaments only a day apart, Del Potro had to rush straight to London. Things had not gone smoothly.
Unfortunately a frustrating day was about to deliver another blow.
With his mind still on his stolen possessions, it took a journalist to point out who he had been drawn against in the tournament. When the leather-clad Argentine turned to the board, his face sank.
The world number five finds himself in the group of death alongside former world number ones Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Frenchman Richard Gasquet. The other group sees Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych go head-to-head in the round-robin format.
“I just saw the draw now… it’s a tough group… All the guys are playing really good and all the names are big… I will have three finals for sure,” said Del Potro smiling reluctantly.
“But in this tournament any player can beat anyone. And maybe these players don’t like the thought of facing me.”
Lights, camera, action!
Luckily for Del Potro, the 02 arena is the perfect place to forget all your troubles, or lost belongings.
The season finale is anything but your average tennis tournament. Along with pitting the world’s top eight players against each other, it is a huge celebration of noise, colour and drama.
The World Tour Finals exchange Wimbledon’s ‘quiet please’ tradition with a razzmatazz not dissimilar to an American sports spectacle.
The players travel to and from the arena by boat along the Thames and spend time chilling out in the VIP backstage area used by the likes of Rihanna and Justin Bieber. Their entry on court is met by pumping music, epilepsy-inducing light displays and thousands of roaring tennis fans. This is tennis, but not as we’ve known it all year.
In terms of sponsorship and coverage, the ATP World Tours are fast becoming the fifth major of the year.
And the 'fifth' major of the year is in its fifth year at the O2. Organisers are confident about the event expecting more than 250,000 fans to turn up this time around. They have extended their contract with the ATP until 2015.
So perhaps, all things considered, life could be worse for Del Potro. If all goes well for the 2009 U.S. Open winner, he could climb up to third in the world.
Exhaustion and theft aside, he is looking forward to facing his fiercest opponents one last time in 2013.
"To be honest I’m not thinking about rankings. If I do well here I can go up on the rankings but if I don’t go too far the other guys can pass me on the ranking too."
"My best goal for this year was to be fighting with the top guys and playing finals and important tournaments and in the second part of the year I really reached my goal… I’m okay with number five and I’ll see which position I can close out the tournament."
For many tennis experts Del Potro is their outside tip for the tournament. But recent performances and four titles suggest he is becoming more of an insider. A powerful server and baseline demon, he has the strength and endurance to blow anyone off the court these days.
A phenomenal semi-final battle with Djokovic at Wimbledon showcased how close this gentle-speaking giant is to gate crashing the top four’s party.
On Saturday he was justly feeling out of sorts. A little bit blue.
However, in just over a week, Del Potro could be lifting the trophy on the blue of the O2. And if he is - he should make sure he doesn't take his eye off it for one moment.
Joanna Tilley is a freelance sports journalist working with Al Jazeera English. You can follow her on Twitter here: @JoannaTilley or on her sports blog.
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