The likeable giant, “La Torre de Tandil,” is also known as Juan Martin del Potro, and his claim to fame is built around being the unlikely winner of the 2009 edition of the US Open, defeating Roger Federer in the final of a five-set match perhaps most notable for the normally serene Swiss’s angry outburst at the chair umpire while leading the match.
You can catch it on YouTube, of course.
The Grand Slam triumph was the first by an Argentine at the US Open since Guillermo Vilas bested Jimmy Connors in an epic 1977 US Open final, and followed on the heels of countryman Gaston Gaudio’s heisting of the French Open over the unlucky Guillermo Coria in 2004.
From the way Juan Martin del Potro rolled on his back and pressed his hands to his tear-filled eyes that special night in Flushing Meadow’s Arthur Ashe Stadium, it was clear that this was a very unexpected, lottery-like win, for the unpretentious 20-year-old.
It’s not that del Potro’s head swelled up in the aftermath in which he jumped to #4 in the rankings in early 2010; no, what happened is that his right wrist found a way to injure itself so badly that he necessitated surgery that would eventually sideline “Delpo” for almost a year, turning aside, at least temporarily, the possibility that he might eventually be headed to number one.
As Federer said at one point during del Potro’s comeback in 2011: “I really thought that before his injury he had the potential to be the top player in the world.” (Actually, this scribe has never read any sort of similar comment by the perennial top-ranked Swiss concerning any other up-and-coming-star on the ATP Tour.)
So 2012 was another year of mending and struggling to find the form that vaulted the Argentine into tennis’ upper echelons two years ago, a season highlighted by his taking the London Olympics bronze medal over current world number one Novak Djokovic, after losing a five-set nail-biter for a place in the final against none other than Federer.
Despite beating Federer at the Swiss Indoors later in the fall, and having a chance to get to the season-ending ATP Tour Finals, losing in the semis to Djokovic, Delpo is currently ranked at an unspectacular #7, right behind Czech Tomas Berdych.
As Federer intimated, the Argentine has all the tools to reach the top. At 6’6” his serve comes out of a tree and his swooping forehand moves opponents around like yo-yo’s. His two-handed backhand is solid as a rock and his net game much the same. Mentally, del Potro doesn’t seem to suffer from the ups and downs of, say, Andy Murray, the higher ranked Scot who also has a complete game.
So the question continues to be, can he finally recover the form that enabled him to reach that Grand Slam pinnacle in 2009? Time will tell, and also the way his closest rivals, Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal perform in the season to come.
Having said that, it would appear that 2013 is the year Delpo must finally get the job done; that, or bounce around the fringes of tennis’ elite fraternity until retirement comes calling.