As the last part of my 2011 season review, I decided to devote the post to the comebacks of the year. If the three players who will be featured here are obvious choices, it is because their return to form after long injury layoffs was absolutely great. The fact that one of them was not even considered by the ATP, however, remains, to me, a mystery.
Today’s post will focus on the first one of these players, Argentine Juan Martín Del Potro, who, after all, made the best comeback of them all this season.
Juan Martín Del Potro: almost where he left off
If you haven’t heard Juan Martín Del Potro’s story, from 2009 onwards, it’s because you haven’t been following tennis or were living on another planet. 😉 All joking aside, I will pass on what he went through in 2010, which he almost completely missed, and jump straight to his return.
After missing almost the whole of 2010 due to a wrist injury, Delpo made his return in Syndey, where his first match was a gruelling three-setter of 3:20 against Feliciano López, for which all the sets went to the tiebreak. He lost in the second round to Florian Mayer, but not without giving it a very good effort.
The same scenario happened at the Australian Open, where he won in straight sets against Dudi Sela, but not without it being a very tight affair, particularly the first set, which he won 15-13 in the tiebreak. He lost in the second round to Marcos Baghdatis, in four sets and just in those two tournaments, we could see that although the forehand misfired a lot and that he was at times out of synch (which is normal after such a lengthy layoff), he still had his iron will well on and it would only be a matter of time until the good results showed themselves.
On that, we weren’t disappointed at all.
Back on US soil to play the hard court events, Del Potro reached the semi-finals of both San Jose (l. Fernando Verdasco) and Memphis (l. Andy Roddick). He then went to win the tournament in Delray Beach, defeating Mardy Fish in the semi-finals and Janko Tipsarevic in the finals and his winning celebration was, to me, the most touching I’ve seen in a long while, for its significance (he kissed his right wrist several times in pure joy).
The YouTube ID of 9BFYyPKvk7o?rel=0 is invalid.
Having fallen as low as no 485 in the world after the Australian Open, the Argentine, with his Delray Beach triumph, was back in the top 100, and almost made it back to the top 50 when, in Indian Wells, he made it all the way to the semi-finals, where he lost in two tight sets to Rafael Nadal.
In Miami, although more and more tired as the tournament wore on, he logged the first top 10 win of his comeback when he defeated the then red-hot Robin Söderling in two quick sets in the third round, before falling to Mardy Fish in the round-of-16. His performance was, however, enough to earn him a deserved return to the top 50.
The clay season started well for the Gentle Giant, as he won the Estoril tournament, again defeating Robin Söderling on his way to the title, and giving quite a beating to Fernando Verdasco in the finals. However, during his semi-final match against Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas, he tweeked a muscle in his hip, which would end up causing a small tear in the muscle and force him to retire from the Madrid Masters 1000 prior to his match against Rafael Nadal in the round-of-16.
The YouTube ID of v4BzYOp7QMg?rel=0 is invalid.
Coming back at the French Open (the injury made him skip Rome), Del Potro reached the third round, where he fell to the soon-to-be no 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic, in a four-setter that was stretched over two days.
Fast-rising in the rankings, Delpo re-entered the top 20 with his good performances during the grass season, when he reached the round-of-16 in Queen’s (l. Adrian Mannarino) and the same stage in Wimbledon (l. Rafael Nadal after defeating Gilles Simon in the third round).
Just after Wimbledon, Del Potro returned to Davis Cup action, in Parque Roca, helping Argentina defeating Kazakhstan in the quarter-finals. It was a very emotional Davis Cup return for Delpo, who won his match easily, facing Mikhail Kukushkin.
Incidentally, the time of year when he’s usually at his best was one in which he did not do as good, as he appeared often tired during the North American hard court swing, losing in the quarter-finals of Los Angeles (to Ernests Gulbis, who ended up winning the tournament), in the second round in Montreal (to Marin Cilic) and in Cincinnati (to Roger Federer), and in the third round of the US Open (to Gilles Simon).
He then went on to play the hero in Belgrade during the Davis Cup semi-finals, defeating Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets and then booking Argentina’s place in the finals when he played an amazing match against Novak Djokovic but benefited from the Serbian’s retirement (back injury).
Deciding not to play the Asian Swing in order to rest, he lost in his first match at the If Stockholm Open to James Blake, he then went on to reach the finals in Vienna (l. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) and the semi-finals in Valencia (l. Marcel Granollers), but he injured his shoulder during the tournament and decided not to play the last Masters 1000 of the season in order to get ready for the Davis Cup finals against Spain, even though he was in the thick of the Race for a place in the ATP World Tour Finals.
His last two matches were two heartbreaking losses for Argentina, as he fell in five sets against David Ferrer in one of the best matches of the year, then in another great match against Rafael Nadal, which gave the Davis Cup to Spain.
Going as low as no 485 in the world, Del Potro finished the year ranked no 11, which is an even better comeback as he expected as, at the beginning of the year, he had set his goals only on doing well. However, the more the year went on, the more we saw of the Del Potro who went to win the US Open in 2009, although he hasn’t yet quite reached that level.
Voted Comeback Player of the Year by his peers, a much deserved honour, I’m pretty sure that, if he can finally avoid injuries in 2012, we will see him back to his 2009 level, and most likely back in the top 5, where his immense talent makes him belong. As he improved some aspects of his game, particularly his net play, throughout this year, this can only make things better in the one to come, and I’m pretty sure it will be the case.
Coming up tomorrow
The end of the returns, with words about Dmitry Tursunov and Ivo Karlovic. And then, most likely, my mini off-season.