Del Potro’s Road To Prague
One can only hope the dramatic arc of Juan Martin del Potro’s career continues in the mould of those comeback stories that reaffirm our love of sport. Lavercup.com takes a closer look at the Argentine’s Road To Prague, where he will compete for Team World.
The first act, the tale of the quiet Argentine giant armed with a venomous forehand that hurtles past opponents and draws gasps from the stands, quickly established Del Potro as a world-beater. At the 2009 US Open, the rangy 20-year-old hammered his way past both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – the first player to beat both men at the same major – and claimed a stunning victory at Flushing Meadows.
But no sooner was he crowned King of New York than a fragility in his wrists forced him from the fray. Four rounds of surgery followed between 2010 and 2015, three to his left wrist, and the scars remain writ large in his game. Shorn of a potent topspin backhand, the former world No.4 has taken a hyper-careful approach to his scheduling that, among other absences, prompted the Argentine to skip this year’s Australian Open once more. Indeed, since that 2009 US Open victory, he has missed 14 of the following 32 majors.
“My opponent will not be the player in front of me but my injury,” he said on this latest return to action in 2016. So it has proven – but it is a battle he appears to be winning. First there was the stunning one-winged win over Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon, nursing his sliced backhand past the Swiss in his first Grand Slam in over two years.
Then came the improbable run to the Olympic gold medal match, where it took Andy Murray over four hours to leave him with a silver medal. And Del Potro would have a revenge of sorts, leading Argentina to victory over Murray’s Great Britain in the Davis Cup semifinals before beating Croatia in the final, the nation’s first triumph after years of near-misses.
And now, Act Two. For all that he has achieved and overcome over the past decade, the man they call the ‘Tower of Tandil’ still believes his best days are ahead of him – every win puts further distance between the most disruptive opponent at the top of the men’s game and the injuries and surgeries that came close to ending a career at the point it entered full bloom.
It has not been an easy season, with his form in flux and his ranking not yet high enough to protect him from early-round encounters with the Murrays and Djokovics of the tour. But New York once again brought the best out of him, reaching his second semifinal of the season – and just the fourth Grand Slam semi of his career – from one of the toughest sections of the draw.
“My game is appearing,” Del Potro said at the US Open, where he beat Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer to reach the final four, falling to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in four sets.
“The winners returned. I enjoyed this tournament – it was spectacular, and I’m looking forward with expectations.”
And now, he prepares to take on Europe’s best after being selected as a captain’s pick by John McEnroe. “Almost every player on Team Europe has experienced the heat of Juan Martin’s huge forehand and power game,” said the Team World captain. “Regardless of his current ranking, he will be a tough player to beat.”
“I have had some of the best moments of my career as part of a team so of course I’m very grateful to be a part of Team World for the Laver Cup,” Del Potro said. “We have never had an event like this in tennis. It will be very special to join players that you normally compete against.”
It will certainly be special to see him there.
DELPO’S ROAD TO PRAGUE
Delray Beach Open (outdoor hard): Semifinal lost to Milos Raonic 6-3 7-6(6)
Abierto Mexicano Telcel (outdoor hard): Round of 16 lost to Novak Djokovic 4-6 6-4 6-4
BNP Paribas Open (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Novak Djokovic 7-5 4-6 6-1
Miami Open (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Roger Federer 6-3 6-4
Millennium Estoril Open (outdoor clay): Round of 16 lost to Ryan Harrison (w/o)
Internazionali BNL d’Italia (outdoor clay): Quarterfinal lost to Novak Djokovic 6-1 6-4
Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon (outdoor clay): Round of 16 lost to Gastao Elias 7-6(0) 6-4
Roland Garros (outdoor clay): Round of 32 lost to Andy Murray 7-6(8) 7-5 6-0
Wimbledon (outdoor grass): Round of 64 lost to Ernests Gulbis 6-4 6-4 7-6(3)
Citi Open, Washington (outdoor hard): Round of 16 lost to Kei Nishikori 6-4 7-5
Coupe Rogers, Montreal (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Denis Shapovalov 6-3 7-6(4)
Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati (outdoor hard): Round of 16 lost to Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 7-5
US Open (outdoor hard): Semifinal lost to Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-2