Juan Martin Del Potro: What's Next After His Impressive Wimbledon Run?
Juan Martin del Potro fell in the fifth set of the men’s semifinals, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, 3-6 after battling almost five hours with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Centre Court at Wimbledon. He won the heart-felt appreciation of the crowd assembled to watch. This fact provided some consolation as del Potro reflected on all he’d accomplished at Wimbledon 2013.
So what does it all mean for del Potro? What will be his ultimate goal now that he’s apparently returned to complete heath on the men’s tour?
Those who watched del Potro win the 2009 U.S. Open understand his desire to hold that trophy again. That will be his goal as the tour moves to the American hard-court season. Next for the Argentine is returning to the championship match to win the U.S. Open in 2013, four years after winning his first and only Grand Slam title.
The time has come for del Potro to return to the men’s top four. The signals are clear, delineated as follows. Read and see why this comes to pass during the summer of 2013.
1. Del Potro's Physical Status Has Returned to 2009 Levels
After winning the U.S. Open in 2009, del Potro’s game came to a grinding halt in 2010 because of continuing problems with his right wrist. Eventually, the wrist required surgery, which he underwent in May of 2010.
His ranking sank to No. 485 by the start of 2011 after missing eight months on tour. The idea of quitting the game altogether came and went.
But finally, after struggling into peak form, the Argentine has arrived within shouting distance of his form at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Including the 2009 Wimbledon Championships, del Potro had played in 12 ATP tournaments by the time he left the All England Club. In 2013 so far, the Argentine played in 10 ATP events. He had to skip the French Open because of illness.
In 2013, he has a 25-9 match record with one ATP title after Wimbledon’s conclusion. His winning percentage reached 73.5. In 2009 at this exact point in time, his record stood at 32-10 with one title after Wimbledon ended. He held a 76.2 winning percentage. He is close to his 2009 level of play.
Hard courts, to date, have been the surface where the Argentine records his best results. Del Potro’s play at the the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, however, was by far his best performance so far on grass, extending five sets. Almost as great, however, was his play on grass at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
But this year at Wimbledon, he played with agility and speed, even standing 6’6" with a heavily-taped knee.
There is no doubt but that del Potro is back, ready for the fast track offered at Flushing Meadows.
2. The Stranglehold of the Traditional Top Four Is Weakening
We are used to seeing Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray hold various ranking spots within the top four in men's tennis. They have existed in this select state for the past several years. But that is changing.
Since Wimbledon concluded in 2013, Federer has fallen to No. 5 in the ATP rankings. It marks the first time in a decade that the former world No. 1 was out of the top four.
He recorded his last No. 5 spot prior to the start of Wimbledon in 2003, two weeks before he won the first of his seven titles at the All England Club. This year he fell in the second round as the defending Wimbledon champion. It cost him his No. 3 ranking.
Federer has won only one title in 2013 and is sixth in line for the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals, an event featuring the top eight men of the 2013 season.
Nadal, who missed almost eight months on tour after Wimbledon in 2012, also fell to No. 5 earlier this year. He has since returned to No. 4 mainly because of his successes on clay this spring and the fact that Federer dropped 2,000 points after Wimbledon.
Moreover, Nadal has won only one tournament not on clay in over a year—Indian Wells in 2013. He was ejected in the opening round of Wimbledon this year after being dismissed in the second round a year ago.
His last title on hard courts prior to his win this year at Indian Wells was in Tokyo in October of 2010, two-and-a-half years ago.
Nadal's knees continue to be of primary concern, especially on the synthetic surfaces, where the constant pounding engendered by his very aggressive style of play does untold damage to his joints.
Chances are that Nadal will continue to be one of the favorites on clay for many years to come, but his years of winning big on hard courts may well be a thing of the past.
That does not mean, however, that Nadal or Federer are done winning. They will have more victories, and win more Grand Slams. But their years of dominating at the top of the men’s game may soon be a thing of the past.
That opens the door wide for del Potro, whose time has arrived at long last. The first signal will come when the Argentine wins the U.S. Open for the second time and ascends to world No. 4 once again.
3. Del Potro’s Confidence on Court Has Matured to Championship Caliber
Del Potro's desire to win became obvious during his semifinal match with Djokovic on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2013. The two players stood on opposite sides of the net, nervously twirling their rackets before action got underway after the obligatory photographs and handshakes.
Most assumed Djokovic would mop the floor with the wounded Argentine warrior, hobbled by a heavily-taped knee.
Once the umpire signaled, the two began firing rockets across the net, diving for balls, scooping up aberrant bounces and scrambling to keep the ball in play.
Standing on the brink of elimination, the underdog Argentine battled his way back time after time with the Centre Court crowd roaring their approval. Those assembled in the stands spurred del Potro on to ever greater heights.
The quality of play between Djokovic and del Potro surpassed the level of any other match played during the Wimbledon fortnight.
The tension was relieved, however, by the usually humble and quiet del Potro. He offered them moments of comic relief as he bowed, talked to spectators and questioned the tennis gods. His charismatic performance endeared him to fans around the world.
What del Potro demonstrated that afternoon was not only a return to form physically, but also a resumption of the level of confidence that won him his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in 2009.
Although he lost the match on Centre Court in five sets that day after enduring almost five hours on court, the battle was just interrupted as far as del Potro was concerned.
It was not over, not by a long shot.
4. Del Potro Has Won the U.S. Open Before
As the 2013 U.S. Open gets underway, at least five former champions will be fighting to return to the final again, trying to win another Grand Slam trophy at Flushing Meadows.
Federer won the title five consecutive times from 2004-08. Del Potro won it in 2009, stealing the championship match from the great Federer.
In 2010, Nadal won his first and only U.S. Open title. Djokovic took the title during his breakout season in 2011, with Andy Murray stealing the trophy away from him in 2012, winning his first Grand Slam title ever.
No one currently sitting in the top four has won the U.S. Open championship more than once. With Federer and Nadal seemingly in less than stellar form, del Potro’s stock rises in 2013, especially considering his recent play at Wimbledon.
In 2009, the Argentine had to battle past Nadal in the semifinals before meeting Federer in the finals. The two finalists fought for five sets with Federer always on the brink of winning—just like Djokovic during their 2013 Wimbledon semifinal match.
But in 2009, unhampered by a knee he’d hyperextended twice, del Potro came back to win the match, overpowering the great Swiss with deep, flat groundstrokes that blew Federer off the court. Del Potro's serve was spot on when he needed it that day.
He proved he could win, and many saw del Potro as the next new No. 1. But then came the wrist injury with its subsequent surgery and recovery period. Four years later, del Potro is back at that same spot, ready to win the U.S. Open for the second time and take his place back in the men’s top four.
This year, he will do just that.