Has Del Potro improved since US Open 2009?
August 26, 2012 in Tennis
It was three years ago that a relative unknown in the tennis world stormed into the finals of the US Open, and that too in Grand fashion, by deftly disposing of Rafael Nadal in straight sets. A tall, stone-faced Argentinian, only 20 years old, was facing up to Roger Federer, the greatest tennis player of all time. Federer had easily brushed aside another newcomer of the time in Andy Murray at the finals of the Open in 2008, and there was no reason for anyone to expect this final to turn out differently, especially when Federer found himself a match point at the end of the fourth set. But Juan Martin Del Potro had other plans, and after some brutal hitting, employing perhaps the most ferocious forehands ever seen in the sport, he found himself a Grand Slam champion.
Three years later, Del Potro is far from winning another major. In the tennis hierarchy, his odds of winning a Grand Slam come after the likes of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, and then even perhaps after Tsonga or Ferrer. And yet, only the first three in that list of six have won at least a major, and though Murray is expected to win a Grand Slam title before Del Potro wins another, it is the latter who has tasted that success. Yet in the wake of that 2009 US Open, Del Potro found himself battling a wrist injury. He struggled through much of 2010 before succumbing to the injury and undergoing surgery. Recovery proved to be a rather long road and Del Potro faded away until the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, when he reappeared in the latter stages of big tournaments. This year has proven a fruitful one, most recently with a bronze medal at the Olympics and that too with a win over Novak Djokovic, and a semi-final berth at the Cincinnati Masters.
But when asked repeatedly at press conferences how he feels about his game, Del Potro is predictably self-critical, and negative. He always says that he trying still to reclaim the position and form he had prior to his injury, which begs the question, “is he really not back to his 2009 self?” Perhaps he isn’t, or perhaps he feels he will never be. No matter how much he improves and how much he achieves, it will be impossible to know where his career would have been, and how many more tournaments he would have won, had he not suffered that injury. Federer himself famously said that he expected Del Potro to be in the top four in the world, maybe even at number one some day. A year lost is a big deal to an athlete, whose career is measured and restricted by age. Maybe Del Potro can never really emulate the success he enjoyed three years ago, and maybe he will never regain the form he indulged in back then. Or maybe he truly has surpassed the skills he held then, but has lost a lot of his mental fortitude and self-belief. No matter how well you’re playing, if you can’t recognize your ability and take confidence from it, all that skill and talent will be impotent. It will be interesting to see how Del Potro fares in these next few months, starting with New York next week. Hopefully, for his sake and for the sake of tennis lovers, he will start to believe that he has regained his finest form. For if not, there are plenty of others waiting to take his spot in the tennis hierarchy.
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