May 23, 2022 8:03 am

Del Potro: a giant with no pending accounts

“Of all the players on the circuit, Del Potro is one of those who have had the most bad luck. I would have fought to be number 1, had special conditions for tennis. A complete player, but he encountered several problems, and constant ones. He had everything to grow, but many injuries came to him. If not, I would have been there. Sure”.

Tony Nadal, the uncle and trainer of Rafael Nadal, the best competitor of all time (and, for a few days, the maximum winner of Grand Slam trophies, with 21), always distinguished himself in Juan Martin del Potro to a tennis player of the highest hierarchy, with technical (and emotional) resources to rise as an obstacle for his nephew and for the other elite players.

Federer, Murray and Del Potro, on the podium at the 2012 London Olympics. Archive

Own Roger Federer, with a nose for differentiating the good from the extraordinary, he immediately realized that del Potro could be a danger. Seven years older than the man from Tandil, he tried to intimidate him from the very start of the games. He hit a few balls from the ground and was going to volley, so that Juan Martín did not pick up a rhythm. He hurried him to start the challenge. “Federer didn’t do those things against players he knew he couldn’t lose to unless something weird happened and he played very badly. But against Juan, yes, “said Franco Davin, Del Potro’s coach from February 2008 to July 2015, years ago.

“Since he was volleying, Federer was marking his footsteps on the court making more noise than usual. ‘Bye Bye’, it was heard that they made the shoes and played fast in the rally so that he felt uncomfortable from the beginning and started playing cold. In addition, once the game started, he would immediately start shouting the points in his favor. Those players are astute and Roger smelled that Juan could be a difficulty”, added Martiniano Orazi, his former physical trainer.

Del Potro and one of his masterpieces: obtaining the 2009 US Open, after beating Federer.
Del Potro and one of his masterpieces: obtaining the 2009 US Open, after beating Federer.Archive

As a result of the tennis school of the Independiente de Tandil club and trained by Marcelo Gómez, Del Potro had a knack for sports from a young age. He was passionate about football and some compared him to Claudio Marangoni. In the life of Toothpick, nickname he had because he was thin and tall, tennis was gaining ground until he had to give up football. He played his first National tournament at the age of seven, in Bragado, and from the ages of 8-9 and up to 13-14 he devoted much more time to perfecting his strokes and movements within the court. In 2002, at the age of 14 and in Miami, he won the Orange Bowl, a prestigious junior tournament. He got his first ATP point in 2004, at the age of 15 and just over seven months. Since he first appeared in the ranking, on May 24, 2004, he never stopped evolving until he touched the sky with his hands, winning the US Open in 2009 (he was 20 years old), beating Federer (by then, 1st) in the final (and Nadal, who was 3rd, in the semifinals).

His game, based on an extremely powerful forehand, a powerful serve and a high-intensity proposition, was complemented by an intelligent handling of the scene that allowed him to win the affection of the public around the world and to be known as – for example in Great Britain – As the ‘gentle giant’. At 2.03 meters (although out of “coquetry” he always declared 1.98), Del Potro strengthened his physique to fight against the best. He succeeded and reached the elite (his best ranking was 3rd, in 2018), but injuries undermined his growth. And again. From the first right wrist surgery, in May 2010, through the three on the left wrist between 2014 and 2015 (for which he was close to retiring), to the four on the right knee (after the patella fracture), Juan Martín’s career fluctuated between heroic challenges and periods of darkness and uncertainty. He gave too many advantages and, even so, he became one of the most outstanding players in times of dominance of the game. Big 4 (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray).

Del Potro, broken, announcing that he is seriously thinking about retirement.
Del Potro, broken, announcing that he is seriously thinking about retirement. Oscar Robert Castro

With two Olympic medals (bronze in London 2012, silver in Rio 2016), 22 titles (the third Argentine with the most trophies) and 13 finals (one of them, the US Open 2018), he finished rising as a legend with the conquest of the Davis 2016, the last major title that was missing from the sport of our country and that Vilas, Batata Clerc and Nalbandian had not even been able to win. Del Potro made resilience a circumstance that freed him every time he was on the ropes. His recoveries put him on an epic stage many times over. For this reason, despite not competing since June 2019, (almost) no one was encouraged to consider him retired. But this time the flame seems to go out. He spent too much time in the dark. He says he is not giving up, but his gestures show otherwise. The end is near. You can rest easy: you have nothing pending.

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