Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Juan Martin del Potro concedes limelight to Maradona's backhand of God

Soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina plays tennis with country man Juan Martin Del Potro alongside the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Regi Varghese)
Soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina plays tennis with country man Juan Martin Del Potro alongside the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Regi Varghese)
Soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina shakes hands with tennis player, Juan Martin Del Potro, also from Argentina, after an exhibition tennis, during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Regi Varghese)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 21: Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark meets with football legend Diego Maradona as they exchange gifts after her match against Marion Bartoli of France during day four of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on February 21, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 21: Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark exchanges gifts with football legend Diego Maradona as they pose for a picture with Salah Tahlak, Tournament Director during day four of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on February 21, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

On a day when the leading men breezed through their second-round matches here at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, some of the biggest cheers were reserved for the session's most unlikely player.

After Juan Martin del Potro had beaten Somdev Devvarman 6-4, 6-4 to earn a quarter-final meeting with Daniel Brands, the world No 7 was joined on court by his fellow Argentine, Diego Maradona, who was appointed as a sports ambassador for Dubai last summer.

While Maradona's waistline has expanded considerably over the years, at just 5ft 5in tall he is more than a foot shorter than Del Potro. When the former World Cup winner came on court he stood on a chair to embrace the 6ft 6in Del Potro before picking up a racket and challenging him to play a few points. Maradona even hit a decent winning volley before leaving to warm applause from the crowd.

Maradona arrived in the United Arab Emirates two years ago to coach the Al Wasl football club but was dismissed last summer, upon which he agreed a new one-year deal to be a local ambassador. To Del Potro, who is a friend of many current Argentinian footballers, he will always be a hero.

"It's a pleasure to share moments with Diego," Del Potro said. "All the Argentinian people love him and he's our No 1 representative in the world in sports. To hit some balls with him here in this stadium was amazing for me. He played really well – not like soccer, of course, but he can hit the balls with me. It was a funny moment for both of us. We'll maybe have dinner or something together this evening. Being with him is an honour."

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the top two seeds, wasted little time reaching the quarter-finals. Djokovic beat Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 7-6 and will now face Italy's Andreas Seppi. Federer took just 71 minutes to brush aside another Spaniard, Marcel Granollers, 6-3, 6-4. The world No 2 will meet Nikolay Davydenko in the last eight. In the remaining quarter-final, Tomas Berdych will take on Dmitry Tursunov.

Meanwhile, the former women's world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki bowed out of the Malaysia Open to 186th-ranked Chinese qualifier Qiang Wang. The top seed cruised through the opening set of her first-round match and had a match point in the second before going down 2-6, 7-6, 6-1. Qualifier Wang, 21, allowed Wozniacki only one point in the second set tiebreak to level the match.

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