The second in our list of underdog stories is Argentine tennis star Juan Martin Del Potro for making an incredible comeback in 2016 after contemplating retirement due to a chronic wrist injury. Despite all the struggle, an Olympic silver medal and a Davis Cup title are nothing less of sensational.
“Last year I was close to retiring from tennis,” Del Potro said during an interview earlier this year. Thankfully for the sport, and the thousands of Del Potro fans across the world, the Argentine did not go through with that decision. It must have been hard not to, though. It must have been difficult for him to find motivation every morning for almost three straight years. It must have been arduous for him to pick up the racquet every day knowing he might not ever be the same again. It must have been painful to sit in front of the television and see the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal dominate the circuit and win point after point, match after match, and trophy after trophy. He could have been in one of their places. He was supposed to be one among them.
When he became the first player to defeat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same major, in back-to-back matches no less, on his way to
February – A decent start
He returned in February earlier this year and reached his first semifinal of a tournament since 2014, albeit at the Delray Beach Open. He lost to the eventual winner Sam Querrey, and it was evident that the four wrist surgeries he had undergone hade left their imprints on his game. Three of those surgeries were on the 28-year-old’s left wrist – the one which he used to generate all of the power on his smashing backhand. A weapon which was highly feared in the circuit was now reduced to lowly slices. He was unable to hit them with any conviction. It was apparent that Del Potro can no longer just blast his opponents off the court. His forehand was still firing those missiles, though.
July – First big scalp
As the strawberries and cream returned to the Wimbledon, so did Del Potro. The grass has never been his
However, Del Potro showed that he can still use it effectively. His low slices caused Wawrinka a lot of problems, and he used it almost as a
As for Del Potro, he was just happy playing the game again. “I don’t know if I can be in the top positions again. But if not, I will be happy just to be playing tennis again,” he said. He went on lose to Lucas Pouille in the next round, but the world stood up and took notice.
August – Nadal and Djokovic conquered
The Olympics arrived in South America this summer, and thousands of Argentines made their way to Rio to cheer Del Potro on. Four years back, he had won the bronze medal after defeating Novak Djokovic, but a lot had changed since then. The Serb was a different beast, and Del Potro faced him in the first round itself. After an intriguing baseline battle, it was the Argentine who came out on the top and shocked the world. But almost as soon as he stopped celebrating, he was up against a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal. However, the Spaniard, also struggling with injuries recently, was still far from his best, and Del Potro dispatched him as well to set up a clash in the final with Andy Murray.
After battling on the court for four hours, Murray crossed the line 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. It took the best of the Brit and some more to stop Del Potro, as he went on to defend his gold medal from the last edition. Del Potro walked away with the silver, but more importantly, with the belief that he can still compete with the best in the game.
September – Wawrinka’s revenge
Del Potro walked into the US Open with a lot of confidence and a wild card entry. After getting past the young and talented Dominic Thiem who was forced to retired, he suddenly found himself in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam where he faced Wawrinka once again. This time, though, the Swiss came prepared, and Del Potro struggled to find a way past him. At the brink of the defeat, he could not hold back his tears when the whole of the stadium stood up and chanted his name. He wiped his tears and served the final game. The Flushing Meadows clearly remembers his brilliance all those years back, and he walked away with a promise that he will be back.
November/ December – Davis Cup heroics
There was a risk of this becoming the ‘nearly’ year for Del Potro, but the Davis Cup handed him his final opportunity to win it big on his return. Argentina
In the final, Argentina
There are still doubts on whether he will participate at the Australian Open next season as he looks to recover from the injury he received in that final. But he will be back sooner rather than later. The man who was so close to giving up, the man whose game has been drastically restructured due to all the injuries, has shown the heart of a champion this year, and he will be back for more.