In another devastating blow to a player who has suffered more than his fair share of injury problems, world #4 and defending champion Juan Martin del Potro has been forced to withdraw from the Indian Wells Masters. It was the site of a triumph last year that reminded the tennis world of just how capable the Tower of Tandil can be, as he hammered through the draw before saving match points to defeat then-world #1 Roger Federer in unquestionably one of the matches of the year.
He would go on to reach the semifinals at the French Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, where he lost narrowly to Rafael Nadal in another epic. He backed that up by reaching his second Grand Slam final at the US Open, though he was unable to complete another fairy-tale as Novak Djokovic dominated to win the final in straight sets. However, with his place at the ATP Finals all but assured, del Potro slipped and fell at the Shanghai Masters, fracturing his knee in the process and ending his season.
That knee problem also forced him to miss the Australian Open, where he surely would have been amongst the title favourites had he been present. He returned to action in Delray Beach, which was also where he staged his comeback in 2016 after a serious wrist injury sustained at the end of 2013 threatened to bring his career to an end. Unfortunately for del Potro, the signs were not promising as, despite winning his first two matches in straight-sets, he lost in the quarterfinals to Mackenzie McDonald.
His knee looked far from steady in Florida and, as a result, there were serious fears that del Potro would not have sufficient time to recover before the beginning of his title defence in Indian Wells. Unfortunately, those fears have proven well-founded and del Potro’s ranking is set to tumble as a result, although he should remain in the top ten. He may still be targeting a return in Miami, where he reached the semifinals last year and is always well-supported by the local fans.
However, given the severity of his knee problem and, one can assume, his reluctance to withdraw from Indian Wells, the Miami Open currently seems an ambitious target. The European clay court swing may be a more realistic aim for the Argentine. Clay is generally more forgiving of the joints than the hard asphalt courts of North America, as Nadal’s continued domination of the surface despite his numerous knee problems illustrates.
But even should del Potro be back by April, he will still have been gone too long. And not for the first time.
Embed from Getty Images