'They still remember me!' - Juan Martin del Potro thrilled with Auckland return

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NZN

World No.11 Juan Martin del Potro is content to simply soak up the atmosphere from fans at Auckland's ASB Classic after wrist and hip injuries left him on the brink of giving the game away two years ago.

The big serving Argentine spent today hitting up on the practice courts and greeting young fans after his second seeding earned him automatic qualification into the second round.

And after so long away from the game, the 198cm-giant was pleasantly surprised his towering frame still cut a memorable figure with the next generation of fans.

"They still remember me, which is nice," the 29-year-old former Classic winner joked.

The light-hearted approach is typical of a del Potro who has fallen back in love with the game.

The power-hitter has won 20 ATP Tour career titles, including the 2009 US Open, when he became the first player to beat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same Grand Slam.

But it was his 2014 silver medal at the Rio Olympics and his role leading Argentina to victory over Croatia in last year's David Cup final, which have lifted a weight from his shoulders.

The 2009 champion has struggled with injuries, but is fit for the Auckland tournament.
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"[The David Cup win] was so big for our history and then when I got that trophy, I played without pressure [for the rest of the year].

"Now I have nothing to lose because I came close to quitting tennis two years ago."

The more relaxed del Potro went on to then knock a red hot Federer out of the US Open in the quarter-finals before narrowly going down to eventual champion Nadal in the semis as he climbed back to world No.11.

Now he is clinging to his positive mindset as he uses the ASB Classic to open his 2018 season, having missed the tournament in recent years.

When he won the Classic back in 2009, he also won the US Open crown.

However, winning the double again won't be so easy. Del Potro now requires treatment up to three times a day on his troublesome hip and wrists and has been forced to rebuild his power game with slices and deft touches.

He will also first have to get past the winner of either Canadian Denis Shapolov or Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, who he will meet in the second round.

"It's a long way back [from injury] but I like to be here," he said.

"It's an exciting time in my life trying to win another big event."

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