May 18, 2022 7:11 pm

Del Potro and the ATP of Buenos Aires, in decisive hours: he is convinced of the return, but he still suffers from his knee and had to infiltrate

953 days passed since the last official game of Juan Martin del Potro (June 19, 2019, on the lawn of Queen’s; victory over Canadian Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 6-4). and they will be fulfilled 964 days next Monday, February 7, when the curtain rises on the ATP 250 in Buenos Aires, the contest in which the man from Tandil has decided to reappear in the circuit. That’s too much downtime for a high performance athlete. Between one extreme and the other, he entered the operating room four times to have surgery on his right knee and – beyond his enormous fighting spirit – nothing is like before.

His pain tolerance, after so many interventions and treatments, is very low. In recent weeks the intensity of training has increased, but discomfort reappeared in the operated area, which is why he has not yet made his presence official at the Argentina Open nor at the ATP 500 in Rio de Janeiro, a week later. Moreover, in these hours momentarily canceled his practices and a new infiltration was performed on the knee to try to reduce the discomfort.

Training of Juan Martin del Potro

After six days of rehearsals at the Uncas de Tandil club during the second week of January, in which his performance went from low to high in suffocating weather and ended up simulating points with Marcelo “Negro” Gómez, his trainer, With the basket on the other side of the net, Del Potro returned to the City of Buenos Aires seeking to take another step towards his long-awaited return. At the Argentine Tennis Club, the Palermo stage where he usually trains, last week increased the demand with the Cordovan Juan Ignacio Londero (current 136th, former 50th) on the other side of the court. In the first few days they played loose points, in which Del Potro (accompanied by physical trainer Leo Jorge) displayed impeccable timing when hitting the ball. “He still has crazy timing. Every ball that touches from the right is a winner”, said a witness.

The serve also worked perfectly for Juan Martín. And a play that he repeated dozens of times against Londero was to lower the ball with a short and crossed slice, reverse right and seek to dominate with a winning drive shot. He did it over and over again, naturally and effectively. However, after several “positive” days of training with the 2019 Córdoba Open champion, the difficulties appeared towards the end of the week when it was time to rehearse sets. Del Potro felt uncomfortable, his movements on the Buenos Aires brick dust decreased, his body language was not the same and his shots no longer did as much damage. He looked tired and a little tense. It had been a long time since he had an intense round trip against an active rival and, obviously, when he added mileage he suffered from it.

With the anxiety of the organizers of the tournaments in Buenos Aires and Rio on the rise for not yet having a confirmation of Del Potro, again the Argentine Tennis Club was the scene of Juan Martín’s training during this week. Although the “rival” was another: Sebastian Baez (88th) who, in a way, is backed and sponsored by the 2009 US Open champion. The good relationship between the Tandil native and Báez’s coach, Sebastián Gutiérrez (a member of Daniel Orsanic’s coaching staff in the Davis Cup) brought him closer Juan Martín to one of the most outstanding national rackets of the new generation. After reaching the second round of the Australian Open, Báez returned to Buenos Aires and, before traveling to Córdoba (he will compete, starting next week, in the ATP at Polo Deportivo Kempes), he had the pleasure of practicing with one of their referents. Del Potro raised the bar again on the court, to increase the demand.

LA NACION confirmed that Del Potro had ups and downs again. He was no longer observed with the fluidity and joy of other days on the court. And not because he had a colleague in front of him with whom he has no affinity (on the contrary), but because his body (and his mind) did not respond as he intended and he could not finish the training sessions as he wanted. He also knows that the entire tennis world is very expectant, waiting for an announcement about his future and that acts as a great pressure, even for him, who reached the top of the Empire State Building wielding a racket at just 20 years old.

Competitive and perfectionist to the max, Del Potro’s hands are sweating as the time limit approaches for the start of the ATP in Buenos Aires where the public, the organizers, the sponsors and the press (also his family and friends, of course) yearn to see him in action again. He is the first who wants to be there (he has already communicated this to those closest to him), where he only played in 2006, when he was 17 years old, he was 155th in the ranking and received a wild card. Nerves grow; nerves play

Del Potro, who aspires to return to the ATP in Buenos Aires in February, only played there in 2006, when he was 17 years old and ranked 155th in the world.
Del Potro, who aspires to return to the ATP in Buenos Aires in February, only played there in 2006, when he was 17 years old and ranked 155th in the world. Sergio LLEllarra/Eduardo Puppo Archive

The people you trust are on top of you. They try to push him and support him emotionally during the days in which the current 755th in the ranking is embittered by the pain of a knee that, according to doctors, “is healthy”, but that does not let cause headaches (and therefore in these hours infiltrated again). They give him encouragement and assure him that the day he enters a court and feels the support of the public, he will be energized and, at least for a while, he will forget about the disorders of a knee that -according to the protagonist- never reacted to poor treatments. invasive and that was operated for the last time in March 2021, at the Midwest Orthopedics at Rush in Chicago by Jorge Chahla, an orthopedic surgeon born in Tucumán but based in the US, specializing in knee, hip and shoulder problems.

Juan Martín sits down in stoppage time. It will not operate again. “The definitive one”, he wrote on his social networks after his last intervention. Thus the situation is extremely delicate. At times he feels dazed and even cornered. But then he takes a deep breath, calms down, looks around, remembers himself as a tennis player and lifts his spirits. He still has hope.

Del Potro against Shapovalov, at Queen's, in June 2019, when he played his last official match;  then there would be four surgeries on his right knee.
Del Potro against Shapovalov, at Queen’s, in June 2019, when he played his last official match; then there would be four surgeries on his right knee. Reuters

You know, Del Potro, at 33 years old, that many tennis people love him and that, if they are aware of him, it is because of what he generated as an athlete, for the Davis Cup, the Olympic medals, the titles on the circuit and the incomparable right shotguns. Hardly anyone can ask for something more in the sporty aspect. He built a dream career having given too much of an advantage (four wrist operations, the same number on his right knee). If after two and a half years without competing, one hundred percent of tennis fans do not consider him retired, it is precisely because of his category and resilience that he wore so many times. The uncertainty grows. The hours go by and they don’t flow as everyone would like. Del Potro is still playing, as he described last September when visiting Flushing Meadows, the game of his life.

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