June 8th, 2018. Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros. Spaniard Rafael Nadal is going to advance to his 11th French Open final. He is facing the fan favorite Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, a player he has lost to five times in his career.
For those thinking that Nadal would be dethroned, you would be proven wrong. The King of Clay steamrolled through “Delpo,” winning in straight sets 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.
But just being in the semifinals would prove to be a massive accomplishment for the tall Argentine. In this week’s ATP rankings, he is be ranked a career-high #4 in the world. Given the arduous road del Potro has had to travel to get to this moment, many deemed it impossible for him to get back to being a perennial contender, let alone a Top 5 player.
del Potro Hits Jackpot with Major Win
September 14th, 2009. Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. A new day is about to dawn in men’s tennis.
History is always written when a new US Open champion is crowned in New York. But when the unexpected outcome outshines the anticipated result, the moment leaves a long-lasting legacy for the sport.
The Swiss Maestro Roger Federer was going for his sixth consecutive US Open title. He would be facing a young Argentine who almost no one had ever heard of… Juan Martin del Potro.
He was a youngster on tour who had just upset Nadal in the semifinals to make his first ever Grand Slam final. Given Federer’s experience on the magnificent stage of Arthur Ashe stadium, it was appearing to be an easy path to victory for the veteran.
It would not be a walkover. In a five set battle, Juan Martin showcased his overpowering forehand and dominant serve, which Federer could not match. del Potro had 55 winners (33 of them on his forehand) with a serve percentage of 64.9%, compared to Federer’s 62 winners (25 of them on his forehand), with a 49.7% serve percentage.
With winning the fifth and deciding set 6-2, the overbearing Argentine fell to his knees in tears, realizing the magnitude of the moment. He was the first player to beat both Nadal and Federer in the same Major and the only man outside the “Big Four” (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray) to win a Grand Slam between the 2005 French Open and 2013 US Open, a length of 35 tournaments.
del Po Catches the Injury Bug
At the end of 2009, after winning his first Major, the Argentinian finished the season at #5 in the world. With powerful groundstrokes and a fast serve, he was on the path to greatness and becoming a critical test for the “Big Four.”
Success in individual sports is never guaranteed, however. Circumstances may occur that are out of the athlete’s control, hindering positive results.
Between 2010 and the present, del Potro has had four wrist surgeries, three on his left and one on his right. He took a tumble in the rankings, becoming a shadow of the player he once was.
There were glimpses of his greatness. He would earn a bronze at the 2012 London Olympic Games after a dramatic victory over Djokovic. In addition, he would claim the silver medal at the Rio 2016 Games, after a heartbreaking loss to Andy Murray.
But once he was showing signs of a return, another injury would sideline him from the competition. Given the amount of time he was away from tennis, there was a potential possibility that del Potro would walk away from the game altogether.
“Everybody knows that I was close to quitting this sport two years ago,” del Potro said to the media. “But then I, for one reason, I never give up. And I have been trying and trying every day to fix my problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now I’m having a great present, looking forward to the future.”
Never Giving Up Pays Off for the Argentine
del Potro’s story of resilience, comeback, and battling adversity is one that has captured the hearts and minds of tennis fans worldwide.
Against all odds, the Argentine won his first 2018 tournament earlier this year, defeating his familiar foe Federer at Indian Wells. This would be his 22nd tournament victory on tour, his first since 2016, and his only Masters 1000 win.
With the help of great coaches and trainers, the Argentinian underwent intense strength training in his wrist, so that his groundstrokes could get back to the thunderous form they once were.
In his French Open quarterfinal battle with Croatian Marin Cilic, we saw the Argentine’s full game put on display. del Potro served 19 aces, served at 61% and tallied 31 winners to defeat Cilic in a tight four-setter 7-6, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.
When the wave of roars and standing ovations took place on Court Suzanne Langlen, the guarded Argentine giant showed his emotions, knowing that he would be once again in the top five.
“Of course, I didn’t expect to be in the top five again, to reach the semifinals at the big tournament after all my injuries,” del Potro said. “But now it’s time to talk about my present in a good way. I think all the tougher moments of my life are completely in the past, and I’m enjoying a lot this present.”
With Wimbledon in a couple of weeks and the hard court season imminent, the tennis world is enraptured with del Potro once again being in the mix for winning Major championships.
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