Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon discusses the latest setback in Juan Martin Del Potro’s career.
Not to go totally all cliche but they say a cat has nine lives, right? This makes Juan Martin Del Potro one rare feline.
Because the hits and the injuries just keep. on. coming. for the tall Argentine and the man just keeps. on. going.
A month ago, we were learning that Del Potro might miss the French Open. Though those fears turned out to be for naught, here we are again in June, with yet another injury threatening to derail his participation at Wimbledon.
I guess the good news is this time it’s a groin injury, and not one to his wrist?
It’s really too bad too, because a prolonged absence would rob us of one of the sport’s best players and most impressive ambassadors.
Truthfully, this would just be par for the course for the 28-year-old. Alas, Del Potro has often been very, very solid so far this season but it all must come with the dreaded “when healthy” disclaimer. When healthy, the man was fine: a 13-7 record, close to $400,000 in prize money and a ranking of No. 32. When healthy, the man has been able to achieve results that hinted at excellence and has struck the fear of God in just about anyone facing him across the net, and likely would have continued to do just that.
Coincidentally, the 2016 season was a remarkable run of good health for Del Potro, which in turn made it such a wonderful season. Because one week after Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had completed their months-long pursuit of World No. 1, Argentina, guided by Del Potro of all people, won the 2016 Davis Cup title. This came a few months after a title in Stockholm and a silver medal at the Rio Games. It was a rare instance of the sun shining through in a career that’s too often been shrouded in rain and dark clouds.
And you see we were all reminded that sometimes, a “What if?” doesn’t ruin everything.
What’s that? Oh you want the full highlights video? Sure thing, boss.
In the understatement of the century, it had been a long time coming for Del Potro. Because of course, though the Argentine looms quite large, the “what if?” has threatened to define his legacy as a professional player.
Del Potro, if you recall, was right there at the top of tennis in 2009 after defeating both Rafael Nadal and then Roger Federer in the semifinal and final of the US Open. The two best players of their generation, it seemed, were no match for the then-21-year-old giant. The takeover, it seemed, would come sooner rather than later.
Instead, it’s the wrist injuries that came before anything else.
You know because it’s been eight years and you’ve heard about the injuries to DelPo quite often, but you don’t really know just how tragic this has been. After reaching a career high of No. 4 in the ATP World Rankings in January 2010, the Argentine took a month off after the Australian Open because of a wrist injury that turned out to be just the beginning. Head over to Del Potro’s Wikipedia page and search for, using Control-F, “wrist.” You get no fewer than 23 results. We suppose that it would be funny if this weren’t so tragic.
It’s safe to say had it not been for the wrist injuries, it may have been Del Potro and not Djokovic or Murray, who would have taken over and pushed Federer and Nadal to the heights they were pushed. He was already right there in 2009 as a 21-year-old coming off a US Open win where he had defeated the pair.
If not for that damn wrist, maybe it’s Del Potro instead of Djokovic who reigns supreme over the ATP all these years. He certainly had the game, and the results, to do it. Consider that Del Potro achieved that career-high No. 4 ranking in January 2010, got injured and fell to No. 484 a year later. Then he went ahead and got back to No. 4 in January 2014 only to again fall, injured, and forced to miss again a ton of time.
Because of that damn wrist, we get this: a pretty great career with 19 career titles and over $16 million in prize money.
But it should have been so much more. Del Potro is a man of many talents—but staying healthy, insomuch as it can be one, is not a talent he’s had.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG