Towards the end of 2016 tennis season, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic lost his world no.1 ranking to Great Britain’s Andy Murray. These two are among modern tennis’s Big Four. The other two; the Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal have hit a patchy form in the last couple of seasons. Nadal is now world no.9 and Federer no.16. Although both Nadal and Federer are coming back from the 2017 season, their prospects to rise among the ranks and attain past glory don’t look too bright. This is not to suggest that the talented duo will lose their famous Big-4 tag but one must concede that their best years are behind them. The question, therefore, is; “who can challenge Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Wawrinka in 2017?” It is here that the Argentine powerhouse Juan Martin del Potro could prove to be a serious threat. This premise is not without logic. The massively built del Potro made his intentions clear in the second half of 2016 and after winning the silver medal at Rio Olympic Games, he capped the year on high note by playing a crucial role in Argentina’s first-ever and now famous Davis Cup victory over Croatia.
Plagued by injuries and multiple surgeries for the last few years, del Potro attempted a comeback in 2015 but could play just four matches before his wrist began troubling him yet again. He went back for further treatment and rehab even as his ATP ranking nose-dived to no.1045. His earning for 2015 was a miserable $23,475 and his tennis career looked in doldrums. Unperturbed, the relentless del Potro staged another comeback in 2016 with Delray Beach tournament. He managed to reach the semifinal before losing. After some wins and a few losses in major ATP events, del Potro went to Wimbledon, where he caused a major second-round upset by defeating fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka. But the Argentine’s Wimbledon journey, after three missed seasons, came to an end with the third-round loss against Lucas Pouille. The rest of the 2016 season saw del Potro in a far better form.
del Potro went to 2016 Rio Olympic Games in August and won against Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal before setting up the gold-medal clash with Andy Murray. He lost the gold medal to the Scot after an emotionally draining match but made a signature statement regardless. In the 2012 London Olympics too, del Potro had won the bronze medal by defeating Novak Djokovic. After Rio, del Potro played in 2016 US Open as a wild-card entry and lost in the quarterfinal to the eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. Incidentally, del Potro was the 2009 US Open winner after he defeated the then world no.1 Roger Federer in five sets. Since then, however, most of his time had been spent on wrist surgeries. On October 23, del Potro ended his 33-month long title drought by defeating Jack Sock in the final of 2016 If Stockholm Open. The Argentine’s most impressive achievement of the year was in the Davis Cup final against Croatia at Zagreb. Though he won against Ivo Karlovic on the opening day, Argentina lost the second singles and doubles. On the last day, when Argentina trailed 1-2, del Potro staged a remarkable come-from-behind victory over world no.6 Marin Cilic in first reverse singles. That paved the way for his compatriot Federico Delbonis in beating Ivo Karlovic in straight sets and winning Argentina’s first Davis Cup ever.
The new tennis season is just two weeks away. While top tennis stars could be busy with planning and preparing for the first Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne in January 2017, it is not possible that they would miss pondering over ways to deal with the resurgent Argentine. The new season could be the right time for the tall Argentine to return to the top reckonings. The man has the game’s fiercest forehand and if he keeps himself on courts, the unpredictable del Potro could really give Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka a run for their money. The Argentine, thus, stands on the verge of a career defining moment and with the remarkable Davis Cup glory behind him, del Potro is truly the tennis player to watch in the 2017 season.
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