Juan Martin Del Potro: The Next Number One?

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Juan Martin Del Potro: The Next Number One?
Del Potro refused to lose to Federer during the 2009 U.S. Open Finals

The question remains––will Juan Martin del Potro be able to defend his Championship at the U.S. Open?  

The Argentine has been out of action most of 2010 after undergoing wrist surgery in January.  

He has not only been unable to compete, he has been unable to practice until this month.  Whether he can get himself fine-tuned enough to be a factor at the U.S. Open beginning on August 30 is still unclear.  

But he remains on the list of players entered into the Open and he has not withdrawn his name from competition––at least, not yet.  

Del Potro has not officially confirmed anything for the press.  Yet, interested people have captured the Argentine back in action.  His Twitter account revealed that del Potro is hard at work on the practice court with a racket in his hand––although holding the racket is fairly difficult at this stage of his recovery.  For the Argentine, it is important not to rush back too soon, suffering a set back, slowing his full recovery further.  

The only thing del Potro has promised is that he will compete in the Thailand Open later in September, leaving his chances of participating at the Open a bit questionable.  Still the prospect of del Potro back in the mix is very intriguing.  

The U.S. Open is where del Potro proved himself.  In addition to Federer and Nadal, the Argentine became the only man since Novak Djokovic in 2008 to win a major since 2005. Federer’s losses at the U.S. Open, ironically, are sandwiched between two Argentines: David Nalbandian, who defeated him in 2003, and del Potro, who defeated him in 2009.  

Federer was going for his sixth consecutive U.S. Open championship on the final Sunday of the tournament in September, as the late summer sun bathed the court. The Swiss had not lost a match at Flushing Meadows since 2003.  

In winning the match, del Potro scored his first victory over the world No. 1 in six tries––not to mention winning his first major championship. 

In 2009 you could not make it to the top without going through Federer. Few had ever stopped the Swiss in mid-flight other than Rafael Nadal.

Del Potro as the No. 6 seed met and conquered some big names in the draw on his way to the final. He overcame Marin Cilic in five sets to advance to the semifinals, where he faced then No. 3-ranked Nadal.

Del Potro did more than defeat the Majorcan, he demolished Nadal in straight sets 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 as a promise of things to come.

His next opponent would be Federer—but this time in the finals of the 2009 U.S. Open.

 Frankly, not many gave the young Argentine much of a chance to defeat the resurgent Federer who had won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back for the first time in his illustrious career.  

But this proved to be del Potro’s time, despite his nerves over the occasion and despite being down two-sets-to-one plus a break down in the fifth set. The Argentine hung on, fighting back to take the victory from the five-time defending champion, Federer 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.

The overwhelming pace of del Potro’s ground strokes pounded Federer, keeping the mighty Swiss on his heels. Del Potro simply refused to cave in or go away in this match.

With his dominating serve and the speed and power of his ground strokes, the Argentine inflicted mortal wounds. Federer could only watch as another potential piece of history moved out of reach forever as the sun set on the grounds at Flushing Meadows.

The win reinstated del Potro’s No. 5 ranking, announcing to the world that there was another player who would be challenging Federer and Nadal soon for the No. 1 ranking. There appeared to be nothing ahead but more success for this rising star from Argentina. 

Del Potro’s infrequent appearances after the U.S. Open, however, brought few victories until the year-end World Tour Finals, where the Argentine defeated Federer once again in the round robin portion of the contest as well as Robin Soderling in the semifinals.

In a shocking match Del Potro lost to Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the finals. Everybody lost to Davydenko at the concluding event.

Following his run at the World Tour Finals, the Argentine did climb to the No. 4 ranking for a short time in January of 2010 before further wrist injury caused his withdrawal at Kooyong. This same wrist injury plagued him during the Australian Open, and eventually left him unable to swing a tennis racket.

Del Potro and his team elected to undergo wrist surgery at the Mayo Clinic in the United States.  He has not played on tour since then and his ATP ranking has fallen to No. 9 but could dip much further once his points come off from the U.S. Open of a year ago. If he does not play at the Open, then, of course, he will simple lose 2,000 points.

Once del Potro resumes his career, a further question remains––will this young man from Argentina be able to recapture the form and power he asserted in gaining his rightful place at the top of the men’s game?

We watch players ranked behind Nadal and Federer––like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray first of all––but others like Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych, who have played in recent finals. But they all continue to fail to win in major finals.  

Del Potro proved to the rest of the field that it is possible to play big booming tennis and impose your will on Federer and Nadal.  Certainly, Soderling and Berdych are now convinced that winning is possible. They just have to step up and do it.

As we  see Federer unable to sustain his dominance, you have to like the chances of tennis phenom Juan Martin del Potro, now 21 years of age, becoming the next real challenger for the No. 1 crown––whether or not he can defend his 2009 U.S. Open Championship.

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