Del Potro: I had to be smart
Originally published on 24/11/16 00:00
With all due respect to the home team and their supporters, the vast majority of the tennis world will surely be behind only one country when Croatia stage the 2016 Davis Cup final this weekend. Argentina, who will be seeking their first title after losing all four of their previous finals, would probably have had the backing of most neutrals even without the presence of their leading light.
However, with Juan Martin del Potro in the team, the South Americans will be assured of the popular vote the world over. Of all the memorable stories that tennis has produced this year, from Angelique Kerber’s rise to the top of the women’s game to the emotional triumphs of Andy Murray at Wimbledon and Stan Wawrinka in New York, none has tugged at the heartstrings like Del Potro’s return from injury.
At the start of the season the gentle giant from Tandil did not know when – or even if – he would be able to make his latest comeback after a third wrist operation. Now, after a remarkable summer in which he has beaten most of the world’s top players on some of the biggest stages, Del Potro has the chance to deliver the triumph his beloved Argentina has craved for so long.
Tears of joy have flowed along the way. Emotions ran high as Del Potro, making his first Centre Court appearance for three years, stunned Wawrinka at Wimbledon. At the Olympics the Argentinian’s first-round victory over Novak Djokovic left both men in tears. An extraordinary week in Rio – “the crowd made me cry every night,” Del Potro says – saw Rafael Nadal join the list of victims until Del Potro’s run finally ended in defeat to Murray in the gold medal match. By the end, even Brazilians were getting behind a man who was representing their country’s greatest sporting rivals.
This is an extract from "Feel the Love" by Paul Newman, which appeared in tennishead Volume 7 Issue 5. For more great features, in-depth gear reviews and stunning images subscribe to tennishead today.
The emotional roller-coaster took several more turns at the US Open, where the 2009 champion was given a wildcard. On occasions there appeared to be barely a dry eye in the house as Del Potro reached the quarter-finals. The New York crowd can be fiercely patriotic, but even against the American Steve Johnson the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium were behind Del Potro, who described their support as “crazy”. Even then, Del Potro’s greatest feat of the summer was still to come. Playing his first Davis Cup singles rubber for four years, he beat Murray in front of the Scot’s home crowd in Glasgow, winning the longest match in the careers of both men after five hours and seven minutes. After playing the doubles alongside Leonardo Mayer, Del Potro had been on court for more than eight hours intwo days and was so shattered that he was unable to play in the reverse singles. Mayer, nevertheless, replaced him and secured the victory that took Argentina into their fourth Davis Cup final in 11 years.
Del Potro has surprised even himself. “I didn’t expect to play at this level at this time of the year,” the Argentinian said. “I’ve already beaten the top four guys. That’s amazing for me, but my biggest goal for this year is to finish it healthy and think then about next year. If something happened to me in this situation I would be really, really sad because I have fought a lot to come back to tennis. For the last two years I’ve been watching tennis at home and I had to be smart, because this is the beginning of my ‘new’ career. I want to play for many more years.”