NEW YORK: Juan Martin del Potro broke down in tears as his US Open run came to end with the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd giving him a standing ovation which delayed the last rites of his quarter-final defeat to Stan Wawrinka.
The big Argentine wept as fans, many dressed in the blue and white shirts of the country's football team, sang 'Delpo, Delpo' as the injury-plagued 2009 champion ran out of gas in a 7-6 (7/5) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat.
Del Potro applauded the crowd and had to compose himself before facing what turned out to be the last game of a match which concluded close to 1:20 on Thursday morning.
"It's something difficult to describe with words. I can lose the match but I will never forget this," said the 27-year-old former world number four who came into the tournament ranked 142 after undergoing a series of wrist surgeries which pushed him to the verge retirement.
"It's bigger than winning any match. I'm so proud to get that from the crowd because I've been doing a big effort to play tennis again. They made me so happy tonight, I don't mind the score.
"I think my tennis is starting to respond as I want but physically I am still down. I am not at the same level as these guys.
"But everything here is positive for me and I'm so glad for that."
Del Potro was trying to reach a first Grand Slam semi-final since Wimbledon in 2013.
However, a summer which had seen him defeat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the Olympics, where he went on to claim a silver medal in a final loss to Andy Murray, eventually took its toll.
"Now I'm fighting at the same level as the top guys, and I already beat Djokovic, Rafa. I played against Murray in a great match.
"Wawrinka is the No. 3 player in the world and I'm there. That's means something good to me. But I need to keep working."
Del Potro needed a wildcard to play in the US Open, the tournament where he made his name with a defeat of Roger Federer in the 2009 final.
But his injury misery sent his ranking spiralling to 1,045 in February.
Next week, however, he should be back in the top 65.
Wawrinka, in his third semi-final in four years in New York, next faces Kei Nishikori for a place in Sunday's final.
He saluted del Potro who had knocked him out of Wimbledon this summer.
"It was an amazing crowd, for sure. There was a lot of support for Juan Martin. It's normal. I expect that.
"He's an amazing champion. He won here. He got so unlucky with all the injuries he had, and the way he's playing right now already, it's amazing. Everybody is happy to see him back at that level."