NEW YORK -- He came striding into the 2009 US Open, an unconscious 20-year-old Argentine, and lit the place up.
Six-foot-6 Juan Martin del Potro destroyed Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, gave him six games, for his 40th consecutive match win. Afterward, he called it the greatest moment of his life. A day later, after he defeated Roger Federer for his sixth consecutive title (something tennis hadn't seen in 84 years), del Potro was asked how he felt.
"Much better," he deadpanned.
The men del Potro beat in those six finals: Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Federer. In that moment, in the wake of those lethal forehands, it felt like the tallest Grand Slam singles winner of the Open era might become the leader of the new order.
In retrospect, he looks more like Marat Safin, the epically talented Russian who stunned Pete Sampras in the 2000 US Open, but went on to win only one other major.
On Wednesday, he looked like something less than a Grand Slam champion. Del Potro simply couldn't shake No. 79-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in a match that, with rain delays, ran for a staggering eight-plus hours in real time and 4 hours, 13 minutes on court.
Del Potro was a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (7) winner in dramatic fashion when the Spaniard couldn't track down one last booming forehand.
In his on-court interview immediately after, del Potro could barely speak.
"I think as everybody knows it's my favorite tournament," he said, gasping between most words. "This court means a lot for me after winning in 2009. I'm trying to be ready for the two weeks. I had a really tough opponent. Thanks for supporting me, and staying."
Thus, the second day match on Arthur Ashe Stadium was completed at 9:20 p.m.
The current administration -- Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer comprise the big four -- has won 33 of the past 34 majors. The exception is the No. 6-seeded del Potro.
Which begs the question: Will he ever win a second?
He's still only 24, an age when some kids are closing in on a master's degree. But he's already into the narrow four- or five-year sweet spot for an elite tennis player.
Del Potro was set back by a crippling wrist injury in 2010, which cost him eight months on tour and three missed majors. He's gradually gathered steam since, and the closest he's come to a Grand Slam final was last month at Wimbledon. Del Potro pushed Djokovic to five sets, losing a terrific 4-hour, 43-minute match.
Andy Murray's Wimbledon victory owed much to del Potro; Djokovic looked lethargic and, at times, disheveled in the final. It seems likely del Potro and Djokovic will meet again here in the quarters.
Hard courts enable del Potro's big game, and he's having another one of those sizzling summers. After Rafa's 10-0 North American hard-court record, Delpo is next in line, at 9-2. He won the title in Washington and lost to Milos Raonic in Montreal (third round) and eventual finalist John Isner (semis) in Cincinnati.
Since that breakthrough four years ago, del Potro has played 11 Grand Slam tournaments and six of those losses have come to members of the big four: Djokovic (3), Federer (2) and Nadal (1). Clearly, the Argentine will have to raise his game and go through them to score a second major title.
On Wednesday, No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska continued the trend -- for a set -- but needed five extra games to put away Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-0, 7-5. Serena Williams, the No. 1 seed, was scheduled to play Galina Voskoboeva, but rain pushed that match to Thursday.
Speaking of which …
Flushing water park
Rain at the US Open? No problem, just hit the button for the retractable roof.
Oh, wait, that's not going to be ready until 2016 -- at the earliest.
As a result, rain wreaked havoc on Day 3, causing two lengthy delays. The first was just under two hours, the second was just over. Eight women's day matches were canceled.
The USTA's announced $550 million renovation calls for a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2017, and possibly a year earlier. We're rooting for sooner rather than later.
The 9:55 start time of the match between Andy Murray and Michael Llodra was the third-latest start for a US Open night session.
Laura Robson from Great Britain defeated Caroline Garcia 6-4, 7-6 (5) in a tense match between a pair of 19-year-olds (there were 14 teens in the main draw) who seem destined to become WTA fixtures for years. The difference? Robson, seeded in a Grand Slam for the first time at No. 32, converted both break points that came her way; Garcia was 1-for-2. Robson reached the fourth round here a year ago. If she reaches that stage this year, she could meet No. 5 seed Li Na, who was a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Sofia Arvidsson. Last year, Robson stunned Li, then the No. 8-ranked player, in the third round. It was the biggest win of her career at the time. Garcia was the 2011 runner-up at the 2011 US Open junior tournament. … American Coco Vandeweghe lost her second-round match to No. 18 seed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-4. … Marcos Baghdatis was a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 winner over Go Soeda of Japan. … Lleyton Hewitt outlasted American Brian Baker in a 3-hour, 6-minute match that was stretched by rain. The former world No. 1 and US Open champion won 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Baker is coming back from a horrific knee injury suffered at the Australian Open and was granted a USTA wild card. Baker had a terrific 2012 season, after missing six years of tennis with a variety of injures. He reached the finals in Nice and advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon, eventually finishing No. 61 -- his first-ever top-100 year-end appearance ... …Tim Smyczek, a 25-year-old from Milwaukee, defeated James Duckworth 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the second round. He will now play Alex Bogomolov, Jr., defeated No. 24 seed Benoit Paire in a fifth-set tiebreaker.