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The ‘Tower of Tandil’ Stands Tall: A tribute to the talent of Juan Martin del Potro

Amogh Jain
877   //    09 Jul 2016, 12:54 IST
Juan Martin Del Potro 2016
‘Delpo’ showed the flashes of brilliance that won him the US Open title, despite crashing out of Wimbledon

When Juan Martin del Potro announced that he would take part in Wimbledon 2016, the euphoria of his fans was unmatched. They had every right to be ecstatic; after all this was the Argetine’s first Grand Slam in more than 2 years – he last competed in 2014 Australian Open. When the draws were released, the fans knew it would not be an easy ride. With a potential second round meeting with world number 5 Stan Wawrinka, the expectations were low for a deep run in The Championships.

The fans were not disappointed though; they were just content to know that he will be back on courts of Wimbledon. Fans love the man, and more than the man they love his story.

Where it all began

The future looked bright for the Tandil native when he defeated Roger Federer in the finals of U.S. Open ,2009 to win his first Grand Slam title. What was more impressive about his run was that en-route to winning the Slam he became the first player ever to beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in back to back matches at a major. He commanded respect and many predicted Del Potro was the next big thing in tennis. Many even expected him to bring an end to the Roger-Rafa dominance. However, a wrist injury forced him to pull out of 2010 Australian Open and robbed him of all the momentum he had built in last 3 months. On May 4, 2010 Del Potro decided to have an operation to fix the injury. This further snatched away his chance of defending the U.S. Open title as he could not compete in the tournament.

First Return in 2011 and the Second Injury  

The Argentine finally returned to tour at the PTT Thailand Open after a 9 month break. It was never going to be easy and so it was proved as he lost his opening match against Feliciano Lopez of Spain. As he started winning matches, the former world number 4 regained confidence and started climbing up the rankings.

With semi-finals appearance at the 2011 BNP Paribas Open and 4th round appearance in Sony Ericsson Open the same year, he was finally getting back on track. Just when you thought he will start winning tournaments and do justice to his talent, he suffered with an 8 millimeter tear in his left rectus, ruling him out of 2011 Madrid Open and BNL d’Italia.

The Second Comeback

This injury break, unlike the previous one, was not so long. He returned at the French Open of 2011 where he reached 3rd round and followed it up with round of 16 appearance at SW19. He returned to top 20, with a rank of 19, for the first time in nearly a year. He finished the year as 11th ranked player in the world and was awarded the 2011 ATP Comeback Player of the Year. It was a great comeback story and the fans were in awe of this gentle giant.

Next year was an Olympics year and all eyes were on top players as they geared up to compete at the biggest tournament of them all. Del Potro too was eager to win at Olympics. He played his heart out in against Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the tournament. It was the longest best of three sets match in history. the Argentine ended on the losing side as Roger edged him in the decider winning 6-3 6-7 17-19. However, Del Potro won the hearts of many and earned the respect of the man on the other side of the net.

Delpo has always been a fan favourite which is rather surprising as not many players who challenge the supremacy of Roger and Rafa are adored by the fans ( yes, you guessed it right, I am hinting to Novak Djokovic) . But the power-packed game of the ‘la Torre de Tandil’ and his calm and pleasant off-court personality never ceases to win him fans all around the world. Del Potro would go on to win the Bronze medal at Olympics and end 2013 with 7th rank and 4 titles in his kitty.

2013 was an injury free year for him as he won 4 titles in the year and entered top 5 rankings once again. He ended the year with a 51-16 win loss record and a dream to break into top 3 next year took roots in his heart.

Third Injury and a Big Question mark on his Return

As it has always been in his career, whenever Del Potro made his mark on biggest tournaments, injuries plagued him. Since the onset of 2014, he was struggling with his wrist. He was nowhere near his best at the Australian Open and had no choice but to undergo another surgery and repair his left wrist. This tough decision had to be made and the entire 2014 season flew past him giving him no chance of competing in any tournament after Rotterdam.

There was a big question mark on his return. Even if he somehow made his way back on tour, his fans feared he would never be the same player as the U.S. Open champion of 2009. Del Potro, being the fighter he is, did manage to come back in 2015 but it was more out of curiosity to play than to compete. He played at Sydney but eventually reality hit him and he withdrew from Australian Open.

In June 2015 he decided to undergo another surgery in an attempt to heal his wrist yet again. The surgery was a successful one but to expect the Argentine to make his comeback at the top level was highly optimistic to say the least. His long time coach and mentor, Franco Davin decided to leave the DelPo team after 7 years of continuous support as he felt time had come for him to accept the reality and move on.

The Comeback is on

They say every great champion always has one more fight left in them. Del Potro is probably the best example. Setback after setback, injury after injury, DelPo has only become more focused and determined to come back on tour. The passion for tennis and the love for competition did not let any obstacle deter this man’s confidence.

Finally the ‘Tower of Tandil’ made his much awaited return at the Delray Beach Open in 2016. Building momentum in the first half of the year, he started regaining form and confidence. Mid way through the year he made a decision to skip Roland Garros and channel his energy in preparing for grass court season. It was a wise decision as clay can really take a toll on player’s body and Del Potro did not want to take any chances.

He took advantage of one extra week before Wimbledon as he decided to take part in two grass court tournaments and prepare his body best for Wimbledon. In Mercedes Cup at Stuttgart, he reached the semi-finals stage and at Aegon Championships a round of 32 appearance meant he had enough matches in his bag to look forward to competing at SW19.

As the Argentine made his return to the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, he received a tremendous amount of love and support from his fans. Del Potro, thriving on the support he received, looked set to win some matches at Wimbledon.

Kick starting his Wimbledon campaign, DelPo sidelined Stephane Robert in straight sets, even serving a bagel in the third set. It was an impressive performance and in the process he set up the much awaited clash between Stan and himself.

The Argentine was certainly the underdog going into the second round match on his return to Centre Court of Wimbledon. After losing the first set, stars were aligned for Stan to sail through rather comfortably. What followed, however, surprised both his fans and Del Potro himself. He pulled out his A game to knock the number 4 seed out of the tournament in four sets. It was a moment of celebration and a moment that re-affirmed that the Argentine was back!

In next match DelPo took on Lucas Pouille of France. In the suspended match, the Frenchman outplayed and outclassed Del Potro in four sets winning 6-7(4) 7-6(6) 7-5 6-1. He fired 73 winners at the expense of just 29 unforced errors.

In his post-match conference del Potro said :

“He came to the net all the time to my backhands, and I couldn't make passing shots. “

There is no hiding the fact that Del Potro’s backhand is not working. He is not able to produce any offensive groundstrokes from the backhand wing. This is probably the reason of his loss against Pouille. Even though he went out in the first week of Wimbledon, in retrospec, he was never expected to reach the second week.

This was in Roger Federer’s words “an information tournament”. Del Potro with his experience at top level certainly understood this as he was quoted saying:

“I'm not hurried to play better, I'm not hurried to grow up in the ranking. I just have to stay patient and keep working hard, trying to get better as soon as I can.”

As the Argentine looks to build upon his game and reach greater heights in future, one thing is for sure after his Wimbledon performance, the ‘Tower of Tandil’ is still standing tall. 

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Amogh Jain
Tennis is my life.
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