“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”
The Argentine Juan Martin del Potro proved gold to this statement of Chris Evert. He is the player, nobody hates, nobody can ever hate. Struggling through injuries and ailments, going through three wrist injuries since 2012, after he won a bronze medal at the London Olympics, being ranked over 1500, he bounced back real hard and high this season.
He played his first tournament since undergoing a wrist injury this season at Delray in February, his first since 2014. He played his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon, where he defeated Stan Wawrinka in 4 sets in the second round, and, went down to Lucas Pouille in the next round.
The Rio Olympics, 2016 saw his best being witnessed after the comeback. He saw off the then world number one, Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the first round. It was a huge win and a confidence booster for him as he himself was ranked 145 for the Olympics, after coming back from such a bad injury. Next, he defeated a top 20 player, the Spanish, Roberto Bautista Agut, to guarantee a medal match and further defeated the 2008 Olympics gold medallist, Rafael Nadal, to guarantee a medal; going down to the only man in the history of tennis to defend a gold medal, Andy Murray, as he played his first gold medal match. The final was stretched up to 4 sets and was played over 4 hours. The Argentine said, “I already won silver, that is good enough for me”, as he defeated Nadal.
The 2009 champion received a wild card for the US Open. He reached the 4R en route winning in straight sets against players like the 11-time Grand Slam finalist, David Ferrer in the 3R. His opponent for 4R was Dominic Thiem, who retired due to an injury in between the match, during the second set itself. In the QF, he lost to the eventual champion, Stan Wawrinka, in 4 sets.
He got a chance to play the rematch of the Olympics final against Andy Murray to seek revenge, at the Davis Cup tie. Murray lost in a thrilling 5 set match, which lasted for 5 hours and 7 minutes, and the Argentines knocked the defending champions, Great Britain, out of the competition. Subsequently, he got a wild card at Stockholm Open, where he managed to defeat players like John Isner, Ivo Karlovic, Nicolas Almagro and Grigor Dimitrov en route to the final where he defeated the then US’s number one player, Jack Sock in 3 sets to win his first title of the year, a title after 33 months. Sock said that the final was a tough match and said that the Argentine’s serve is massive and very tough to read.
After Stockholm, he played the first Masters tournament of the year at Shanghai and was knocked out by the 11th seed, David Goffin, in straight sets, in the first round only. Subsequently, he played the ATP 500 Basel Indoors where he was a champion in 2012. He took the Shanghai revenge from Goffin there, as he defeated him in straight sets, before falling to the eventual finalist Kei Nishikori, after which he broke into the top 40. He closed the season with the ranking number 38.
And to honour him with this achievement, he won the Comeback Player of the year. The man who was ranked beyond 1500, managed to break into top 50, defeating 3 of the Big 4, winning an Olympic Silver medal, all in one season. He deserved to win this award, which is chosen by the votes of ATP players. The Argentine has shown terrific improvement since the beginning of the season. He truly holds gold in bouncing back as high from where he had fallen. Julien Benneateau, Ivo Karlovic and Florian Mayer were also nominated for the award. Del Potro became the third player to win this award for the second time (2011, 2016), after Sergi Bruguera (1997, 2000) and Tommy Haas (2004, 2012).
But that doesn’t sum up all, he had more in room, not only for himself, but for his country too, as if another Olympic medal was less from him.. So, he along with his teammates had made it into the final of Davis Cup for the first time, where they were to play the final tie against Croatia, who hosted the tie in Zagreb. The first two singles matches were won one by each team, where the Croat Marin Cilic defeated the Argentine Federico Delbonis to give Croatia a 1-0, which del Potro later levelled to 1-1, as he defeated Ivo Karlovic by the end of day 1.
The mens’ doubles match was one intense match, the Argentines, del Potro and Leonardo Mayer were up against Ivan Dodig and Marin Cilic. The crowd was fully packed with energy and zeal, to support their favourite team. The match lasted for 2 hours and 42 minutes, as the Argentine pair went down to the hosts in straight sets. Winning the match with two tie-breaks, 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-3, Croatia held the lead, 2-1 on the second day.
The first match on day 3, was either about Argentina levelling the lead, or Croatia winning the Davis Cup, as the best of the lots were to face off. The crowd created an electrifying atmosphere, which was as good as a Grand Slam final, the chants, the screams, all were extravagantly thrilling, could make any individual get goose bumps, just congruent to a football match. It was so exemplary, that the tennis fans and players took it to Twitter to appreciate the rowdy fans of both the countries. Del Potro was 2 sets down. He had lost all the 5/5 tie-breaks he had played in that week. In the third, Del Potro played an outstanding tweener, which Cilic would have never thought of returning, instead applauded his opponent. The third set saw the shift in the gears. Del Potro had previously lost all the matches in his career being 2 sets down, every time. So, this was an opportunity to finish that void and to turn the tables for the Croats, he won the third set, as he broke Cilic in the last game of the match, also preventing the set from going into a tie-break. The warrior from Tandil, had risen hope for the football loving nation as he kept his team alive by winning the third set, 7-5.
In the fourth, the first 4 games were shared. Del Potro got broken, which was foreseen as a levering advantage by Cilic, frustrating del Potro. He was seen hitting the racquet on his head, out of frustration as he subsequently challenged the call which wasn’t required, the same being posted by Davis Cup on twitter, “#DelPotro challenges a call he shouldn’t have and decides to take his frustration out on, well, his own head!”.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) November 27, 2016
He wrapped the fourth set with a 6-4 score, and pushed the match into a decider. He continued his incredible fun, shouldered the responsibility in the best way he could, to level the previous day loss for his team. He played some brilliant tennis in the third set and won the decider, 6-3. And this match became his first one, where he had a victory being 2 sets down. This made his victory even more special, rather than only giving Argentina the hope to win. He won the war of the giants, 6-7(4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.
The second reverse singles match was between Federico Delbonis and Ivo Karlovic. This match, was by far the best match of the Argentine’s entire career. He didn’t leave a stone unturned to beat the hosts for the first Davis Cup title. He was almost unbreakable, and without wasting more time, he defeated Karlovic in straight sets to make his country, the first time champions. The performance of Del Potro and the entire team, was Laureus worthy. Beating all the odds, they emerged as the ultimate winners. And that was a cherry on the cake for Juan Martin del Potro’s comeback story this season.
This guy is a journey in himself, an example of a sudden heartbeat, he accomplished a lot as he came back. He is still hungry for more. He is a pile of inspiration for any individual.
Defeated Murray ✅
Defeated Djokovic ✅
Defeated Nadal ✅
Defeated Wawrinka ✅
Won an Olympic medal ✅
Won the Davis Cup ✅
Broke into top 40 ✅
Came up 1450+ ranks ✅
All in a short span of time of 6 months!
This 1 time Grand Slam champion surely has a lot in him.