Some professional athletes like Juan Martin Del Potro aren’t built to have a sustainable career. Instead, they are meant to perform in bursts. You might say Delpo has thrilled us once in a blue moon. But Delpo’s career has been more like a supermoon, which appears brighter and bigger than the average moon, and according to some, stirs heightened emotions.
After four wrist surgeries and brutally fracturing his kneecap twice by lunging for short balls, you’d think Del Potro would absolutely resent tennis. Be sick of it. Be done with it. But to get an idea of how much the 33-year-old loved the sport, watch his tearful press conference for this week’s Argentina Open, where he announced his imminent retirement. If don’t understand Spanish? It doesn’t matter. You’ll get the sense of just how much Del Potro has tried to stick with this. How dearly he wants to play. How much he has suffered.
Enjoy this week. And possibly next, where he’s entered in Rio, if he can make it that far.
“Beyond the anguish and sadness, I want Tuesday to be an unforgettable day. Having the tournament in Buenos Aires made me feel like it was now or never again,” Del Potro said. He faces fellow Argentine Federico Delbonis in the first round.
At this, the end of his career, it’s time to admire everything about Del Potro, Tower of Tandil.
Del Potro has always brandished a wickedly potent forehand. It has whip appeal. Hit mostly from an open stance with notable racquet head lag, his powerful legs provide energy from the ground and a stroke with torque. His 6’6” frame creates a menacing shot trajectory.
His signature forehand, along with a dominating serve, were great and special enough to beat Rafael Nadal in the semifinal and Roger Federer in the final for the 2009 US Open title. The Argentine also notched victories against Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil on his way to a Silver Medal.
A Del Potro match against any one of the Big 3 was a highlight reel of baseline pizzazz at its best.
He has embodied the style of aggressive baseliner, uncorking power from the back of the court until it’s clearly time to move forward and finish. With his height and powerful legs, two steps and he’s inside the service line. In many ways, Del Potro has been a harbinger of the modern prototype in tennis: Tall with good movement.
As injury-plagued as his career has been, it was actually late in his career, after some of the comebacks, that he achieved his career-high ranking of #3 in August of 2018. In 2019, after the wrists were finally better, he famously made a run all the way to the finals of the US Open, losing to Novak Djokovic.
Del Potro has posted a stellar career singles record of 439-173 (72%), with 22 titles and close to $26 Million in prize money.
He’ll finish his career with over 4,400 aces– can you imagine?– and his blistering serve could touch 149 mph/ 240 km. But the secret sauce: Del Potro played the second-serve points brilliantly, and that’s what will define his career. On his own second serve, he won 53%, which puts him at #25 on the ATP all-time career list. Even more impressive, when he was returning second serves, he won an almost-equal 52% of points.
In short, giving the Tower a second serve made his opponents queasy, knowing they were about to eat a forehand.
Fans have always rooted for the kind, sweet Delpo through his wrist surgeries and his knee operations. He broke the same knee twice while slipping going for balls around the net, once at the 2018 Shanghai Masters and again in 2019 at Queens Club. It just doesn’t seem fair.
But perhaps even more remembered will be his kindness toward another injured player: Nicolas Almagro. At Roland Garros in 2017, Del Potro crossed the net, helped the Spaniard to his feet and sat with him courtside as he sobbed in agony after a knee injury. The video and photos of the moment are as indelible a memory as many of his forehand winners.
Del Potro says his biggest goal in the near future is to live without pain. “My fight is about health and winning quality of life,” he said. Wherever this new chapter of his life takes him, Delpo will be adored.