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September 18, 2009

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Del Potro gets a rousing welcome in Argentina

NOW that he's won the US Open, Juan Martin Del Potro has another goal.

"My dream is to be No. 1, but it will be a long road," he said on Wednesday at a news conference after arriving in his native Argentina.

"Today there are players much better than me."

Del Potro was greeted at the Buenos Aries airport by chants of "Ole, Ole" and "Del Pooo, Del Pooo," the kind of hysteria usually reserved for Argentine football stars. Reporters and TV cameras jostled for space as he signed autographs, never losing his smile despite the mayhem.

Del Potro is back at No. 5 in the ATP rankings, far behind No. 1 Roger Federer, whom he beat in Monday's US Open final.

Del Potro's upset victory - 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 - has boosted morale in Argentina, where the national football team was struggling to make next year's World Cup in South Africa. Argentina last missed qualifying in 1970.

The highlight of his arrival home was expected later when he returns to his hometown of Tandil, about 350 kilometers south of Buenos Aires.

The city of 100,000 was expected to hold a parade in his honor. He was also expected to receive a key to the city and be designated the official "sports ambassador."

Asked to recall his victory over Federer, Del Potro smiled and offered little. "I still don't understand a thing," he said. "I haven't had time to relax. I'm on automatic pilot."

Del Potro, the third Argentine to win the US Open after Guillermo Vilas and Gabriela Sabatini, said he used his underdog status for motivation.

"There were critical moments when I thought I would lose," he said. "On the other hand, I thought I had nothing to lose. It was Federer's 21st (grand slam) final and my first. I just kept running until the final point. I think I realized I could win in the final set when I broke his serve."

The 20-year-old said the victory will not change him.

"I'm not going to change who I am," he said. "I've only fulfilled a big dream I had, but I'll still have the same friends. This is something important to keep my feet on the ground. And I have my coaching and training staff around me, and my family."


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