Pink bandana .Pink t-shirt.One can feel the aura as the the six foot six giant emerges out of the dark as lights are switched on the court in Basel.No hint of emotion ,just calm,impassive demeanour. He starts warming up,knocks some balls with Kei Nishikori and then walks over to the net for toss.Kei,blooming in full yellow ,looks anxious.This is just a quarterfinal match at the Swiss 500,yet the Japanese seems wary.As kei’s opponent playfully swings his racket to and fro , holding it with both his hands,the crowd start cheering.Trust the populi to sense an imminent duel. He wins the toss and much to Kei’s surprise,asks him to choose.From a fanboy perspective,Juan Martin Del Potro has ticked all the pre-match boxes.Swiching on the TV already seems worth .That the second seed in the tournament,world number five,Nishikori is a bit tense against a wild card entrant is testimony to the awe that Delpo is held in the locker rooms and amongst the fans.When one plays him,its Delpo that holds your fate in his hands.If he switches on his charisma on a particular day,he is virtually impossible to vanquish.
That flat sledgehammer forehand which seems more like a slap can resolve any negotiation in a trice.His serve ,always big,remains as powerful as it was in 2009.For a player who hits the ball so hard,he is remarkably accurate.And yet,the promises Delpo made as a 19-year old have not been kept.His left wrist has played havoc with his career.Three surgeries in the last six years have kept Delpo out of the game for most of this period.
It was in 2009 that Delpo took the tennis world by storm when he defeated Nadal in the semis and then Roger in an epic final of the US Open.He soon reached number four in rankings,and there was an acknowledgement that the club of Big Four has expanded .Then the wrist gave away.
After his first comeback ,he managed to reach the semifinal of the London Olympics where he lost in a legendary final third set against Federer by 19-17.Two day later ,Roger was too tired to effectively take on the Murray challenge.This prompted a change in the rules,and tiebraker was introduced in the final set at Rio.IN the Bronze playoff,he overcame Novak Djokovic.
These two combatants then squared up for a memorable semifinal at the Wimbledon 2013,but it was Nole who prevailed this time .In what has been the longest ever semifinal match played at the Wimbledon,both men fought like gladiators enthralling the viewers.Delpo reclaimed his place among the world top five,until the crooked wrist again let him down.
His second return to tennis post-surgery didn’t create many ripples .Compounding his troubles the wrist broke down again.The third surgery was performed in june 2015.Dejected ,dispirited,Del porto went through a dark phase,having lost all hopes of a comeback and watching his career pass by as he grappled with the vagaries of life.The temptation to quit was real.How many surgeries could a wretched wrist withstand ? Tears used to well up in his eyes when he saw other players compete,while he lay on his hospital bed,recuperating.Commentators and analysts lamented over the unfortunate waste of supreme potential .Delpo assumed the status of the most unfulfilled talent in tennis history.
Perhaps some fountains of talent cant just wither away.Come what may,they find a way to gush out of the obstacles.Against all odds,surprising himself ,Juan martin del potro found himself back on the circuit in February 2016.
Starting the season as an unranked player ,Delpo began slowly.He beat wawrinka in the second round at Wimbledon.The force of his forehands was being felt again.Delpo stunned world tennis when he shattered Nole’s Olympic dream again,this time in the first round itself.As both players cried post-match with contrasting emotions,Olympic tennis soared on the viewers’ minds.Delpo then overcame Rafa in a hard fought three -setter semifinal.Juan Martin had done it again.Another Olympic medal was assured.Although he lost the title match to Andy murray, he had suddenly become the hottest player on the circuit.
He played some great tennis at the Flushing Meadows,until his dream run was halted by the eventual champion,Wawrinka.The public support ,especially in the last game, that Delpo received was an apt reflection on how his comeback has galvanized the crowds behind him.
In the Davis Cup semifinal tie between UK and Argentina ,he prevailed over Murray in an epic five-set encounter in what must be the best tennis match of the year .Argentina then went on to win the tie and entered the final to be held in November.Delpo’s two handed backhands ,hit with restraint and much less power owing to a soft left wrist,were rather chipped to keep the rallies going.Murray had to hit back with power on these puff balls,but delpo was always waiting with accurate ,flat slap-forehands and slices.It was almost as if Andy was competing with two different players.Finally he was ground out by the rigour of a tough season,and his legs gave away.Delpo had conquered the ‘man of the season’.Message was not lost.His attitude of never giving up,and coming up with innovative play has catapulted him into the status of a giant-killer.
Delpo then managed to win Stockholm Open reaching the world ranking of 42.Subsequently at the Swiss 500,he packed off Goffin ,before bowing out to Nishikori in the quarter final.
Although Paris Masters didn’t award him a wild card,Delpo’s season is not yet over with the Davis cup final to be played in November .Paris already had seven Frenchmen competing in the main draw.To award three more ,all to Frenchmen,seems rather disappointing.At a time when Roger and Rafa are plagued with injuries,NOle is grappling with exhaustion and saturation of desire,and Kyrgios is banned for misbehavior,Tennis could have done with a vastly popular Delpo in the main draw.
Suddenly the buzz around Juan Martin DelPotro has thickened. ‘What-might-have-been’ lament has given way to a wistfully romantic expectation leading fans to look forward with excitement ,every time he takes the court.One who was expected to be the Champ,has now been transformed into a champ-slayer.
All with a hint of dread,for the left wrist can be treacherous !