When sports fanatics think of the greats of professional men’s tennis, names like Arthur Ash, John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer quickly come to mind. For many sports fans, tennis is a sport that doesn’t see the limelight like others do, and when Juan Martín Del Potro stepped back onto the court, many didn’t notice, but in the tennis community this was one of the most celebrated and anticipated moments of the 2016 season.
He is known not only for his great play but for his overwhelmingly powerful and crowd favorite forehand. His forehand is “a complete weapon, and can punish me on the court with no way of defending against it,” according to former world number one and 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic after his defeat to Del Potro at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
What Del Potro is most famous for is his heart. During his Grand Slam run at the U.S. Open in 2009 he defeated a red hot Roger Federer in five set fashion (3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2). Pennbriar tennis pro Rick Sertz said he can still remember the fight Del Potro possessed. “Whatever he was running on was inhumane. The way he kept fighting, you could see he didn’t have anything left but kept giving more.” Many thought that he was destined for greatness but injuries plagued the young Argentine.
In 2010 he underwent a wrist surgery that ended the latter part of his 2010 season. His ranking dropped all the way from world number 4 to 485 according to the ATP World Tours official point ranking system. He rebounded quickly and was named the ATP Comeback Player of the Year in 2011, as well as taking home the bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012. Del Potro was quoted saying, “This is one of my biggest accomplishments, representing my country like this.” By 2013 he was once again ranked among the Top 5 players in the world. Del Potro once again struggled with misfortune as his wrist problems returned and he had wrist surgery once again in 2014. Many thought that he was out of action, and would hang up his racket.
On Feb. 15, 2016, the 6′ 6″ Juan Martin Del Potro took back to the court under the sun in Delray Beach, Florida. He made he presence known as the unranked wildcard powered his way to the tournaments semi-final loosing to American Sam Querrey. This kick-started a thunderous year for Del Potro. His return to the All England Club at Wimbledon was highly anticipated, and he didn’t disappoint. His aggressive forehand allowed him to eliminate world number five and Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka before he was eliminated by L. Pouille in the round of 32.
Del Potro appeared at the Rio Olympics representing Argentina, in the continents first Olympic Games. With the home crowd behind him, Del Potro pulled the biggest upset on the men’s side defeating world number one Novak Djokovic 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) in a drama-filled match. He was almost a shoe-in to win the gold, after it seemed like no player in the world could match his level of play. Again in the semi-final round he beat Rafael Nadal, one of the sports most decorated athletes, to play in the gold medal match. Andy Murray (future world number one) would go on to defeat him for the gold medal 5-7, 6-4, 2-6, 5-7 and Del Potro took home the silver.
The truest test of character and performance came at this year’s Davis Cup World Finals. This is when players of each country’s nationality play a team tennis tournament. Argentina, who has never won a Davis Cup, came into the tournament with passion and fight. The Argentina tennis fans came out in full force, being known as some of the most passionate in the world. They were able to sail through the first two rounds but were put to the test by Team Great Britain.
Andy Murray and Del Potro battled for hours under the lights in Glasgow before Juan was able to pull the upset winning in the fifth set 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 to advance the team. In the finals they faced off against the dominant Croatian team in Zagreb. Del Potro first beat Ivo Karlovic, one of the game’s biggest servers, in four sets 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3, 7-5. In the title match he would play the strong and steady baseliner M. Cilic who is on the rise in the tennis rankings. He now holds number six in the world. Del Potro got in the hole early, down two sets to love, 6-7(4), 6-2. In the third set he hit the panic button and a huge clutch break of service at the end of the third set allowed him to serve it out. Cilic came out firing in the fourth taking the lead early but the Argentine battled back and miraculously won the fourth.
Gary Pasqualicchio, an avid tennis fan was glued to the TV. “The level of play was tremendous. Both were firing on all cylinders, and almost every point was a highlight.” In the fifth the emotions and adrenaline took over for Del Potro who rallied past Cilic winning 6-3, clinching the title. As the team rushed the court, he was stunned. This was his first match he has come back and won being down two sets to love. He expressed him emotion when he hugged his teammates and coaches and during a post-match interview he was so chocked up he couldn’t speak besides smile and cry. When a local Argentine reporter asked him what this meant to him, this season he replied, “I’m just so happy to be playing, this moment for my country, is just so special.”
Alec Thomas is a former staff writer of The Rambler and a member of the Cathedral Prep Class of 2018.