It was a victory of redemptive force and his legs buckled under the emotion of an Olympic triumph on the lawns of Wimbledon. It was, of course, Andy Murray who took gold at London 2012 but it was Juan Martin Del Potro who found that his legs could not support him in the aftermath of beating Novak Djokovic to take the bronze medal back to Argentina.
The Tower of Tandil fell to the ground, once after winning match point and then after embracing Djokovic at the net. The significance lay not in a piece of metal given to him later when he stood alongside Roger Federer and Murray on the podium. This was a victory that gave Del Potro a glimpse of a better future, the merest hint that he could reprise at the glory days of September 2009 when he defeated Federer to win the US Open title.
The focus falls on this patch of New York City again as Del Potro prepares to play Andy Roddick in what will be a dramatic match as the American teeters on the precipice of retirement and the Argentinian peers towards what he hopes is a lustrous future.
"I'd be an idiot not to use the crowd right now," Roddick said of what could be his last match in what will be a packed Arthur Ashe arena.
"I will prepare like always," the Argentine said. "I know this is a special day for him, but I'm doing my job. I will try to be focused on my match and do my things, my shots."
Three years ago Del Potro seemed to give notice that he would be a leading player in the business end of the majors. Now only 23, he is determined to make good on that promise. The substantial figure of Roddick stands in his way but Del Potro has overcome the giants of the game on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.
His victory in 2009 was hailed as a defining moment because he beat both Rafael Nadal and Federer to become the first Argentine since Guillermo Vilas, in 1997, to win the men's title at the US Open. Del Potro, too, showed strength, technique and spirit to overcome Federer. He was shaking at the start of the match, his hand trembling on the racket as Federer took the first set and seemed to be gliding towards victory. Del Potro, however, came back from one set down and from two sets to one down to win.
He was, however, almost immediately struck down by injury to his right wrist. After surgery, he was also afflicted by back pain and a hip injury. His return to the very top has been slow but quietly impressive.
The Olympics at Wimbledon proved encouraging with Federer only winning 19-17 in the decisive set in the semi-finals. Djokovic was subsequently beaten handily in the bronze-medal match.
Now ranked No.8, Del Potro can sense a return to the very top is at his fingertips. Languid in movement and in his discourses with the media, Del Potro has a firm, focused game. He predictably serves big and his forehand is powerful and accurate, but it is his spirit that impresses.
Last year he won two tournaments and helped his country to the Davis Cup final where they lost to Spain. He started 2011 at 485th and ended as No.11. New York now beckons him to a higher plane.
His journey from Tandil in Argentina has been marked with the constant of hard work. Coached as a youngster by Marcelo Gomez, Del Potro has followed a path that was clearly signposted towards professional tennis.
Gomez, who believes in perspiration over inspiration, coached Juan Monaco, Mariano Zabaleto, Maximo Gonzalez and Diego Junqueira, who all went on to play on the ATP tour after unrelenting practice in Tandil.
"We have no secret," Gomez once said to questions about his remarkable strike rate of producing so many top-class players from a town of 100,000. "We just work, work and work again. We believe in sacrifice."
The monotonous repetition of technical drills has given Del Potro a solid technique but this son of a vet has complemented his game by a singular personality. He may be quiet – and his press conferences will never be mistaken for stand-up performances on the Fringe – but this should not be misconstrued as any sign of frailty. Known as Palito, or the Little Stick, when growing up, Del Potro has matured into a man of substance.
There is a vacancy in the Big Four now Rafael Nadal has succumbed to injury and his prolonged absence increases doubts about his future. The Argentine will believe he can fill that slot. He knows his fitness is returning. He knows, too, he has the mental strength to win a grand slam tournament.
"That was the most stressful moment of my life," he said, recalling the serve on match point to Federer in the Arthur Ashe stadium. He won that point and fell to the ground in joy and relief. That was three years ago but his performance and celebration at Wimbledon showed that Del Potro has changed little in capability on court and in emotional outpouring in victory. The US Open offers him another chance to drop to his knees in thanksgiving. He will do everything to seize it.