"I'm at peace with myself because my last match is on a tennis court and not on a press conference"
As a teary eyed Juan Martin Del Potro left the court in Buenos Aires on Tuesday it was hard not to think about what could have been for him. Before leaving the court after an emotional on court interview, he tied his famous headband to the net, kissed it and left. A symbolic ending for a player who’s career had been plagued by injuries but also a player who was loved almost universally by tennis fans.
Del Potro’s US Open triumph in 2009 confirmed what many had suspected for a while, he was a player who could truly compete with the best in the world. It’s important to remember that this was also at a time where Nadal and especially Federer were really dominant. Tennis was in desperate need of players who could at least threaten their dominance. The US open win confirmed he could be exactly that, at just 20 years old it looked likely he would become one of the games greats.
Unfortunately injury after injury wore down Delpo. One surgery on his right wrist, three on his left and eventually four knee surgeries which look to have ended his career. Whilst he was able to work around the wrist injuries by altering his technique to a flatter shot and hitting more backhand slices, you simply can’t work around not being able to move.
Whilst his injuries will of course force him into conversations about what could have been, it’s easy to forget what actually was. Delpo won an impressive 22 singles titles over his career, to add some context to that number Monfils has 11 titles and Gasquet 15, two very good players who had long and relatively injury free careers. His career had enough highs to talk about what was rather than what could have been.
Del Potro’s Davis Cup triumph with Argentina in 2016 is one of those highlights. He defeated Murray in the semi finals in Glasgow to book Argentina’s place in the final against Croatia in Zagreb. Whilst Davis Cup crowds are notoriously a bit rowdy, I had never seen anything like the atmosphere of that final in tennis. There was almost non stop noise through the whole event. Delpo was down by two sets against Marin Cilic, if he lost the tie was over. He battled back to take the match 6-7, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3, a comeback match which helped Argentina lift their first ever Davis Cup.
Del Potro also went on to win two medals for Argentina at the Olympics. At the London Olympics he won his bronze medal match against Novak Djokovic. Four years later he went one better, winning the silver medal having beaten Djokovic in the round of 64 and edging out Nadal (Del Potro has an impressive 35% win rate against Nadal) in a classic match before losing to Murray in the final.
The last we truly saw of Del Potro at the top of the game was in 2018. I think many forget about his run to the final of the US Open that year. He lost to Djokovic in straight sets but just to get to the final after all his injuries and adaptations due to injuries was quite incredible.
As the light fades on his career it shouldn‘t be with sadness - Del Potro had a career better than almost every player outside of the big 4 in the last 15 years. A bandaged together Del Potro was still able to give the best players in history some of their biggest losses of their careers. He did compete with the big boys just not as frequently or for as long as we would have wanted. He will probably be best remembered for the huge forehands. An eastern grip sledgehammer of a forehand that produced some of the most powerful shots tennis has ever seen. In a world of high margin, semi western grip forehands it’s really nice to see someone absolutely crush the ball. It’s a forehand that every player feared and every fan loved to watch. I’ll leave a highlight reel here for your enjoyment - you’re welcome.