An encouraging comeback bid

Tennis : Despite a fourth wrist surgery, Argentine Del Potro has not given up on his career

An encouraging comeback bid

Eleven months was long enough for Juan Martin del Potro to ponder whether he wanted to attempt another comeback from wrist surgery. One match into his return from his fourth wrist operation, he appears satisfied with his decision.

 But after a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Denis Kudla last Tuesday night at the Delray Beach Open, del Potro was not thinking too far ahead -- only to his second-round match against Australian qualifier John-Patrick Smith on Thursday. Tuesday's win was del Potro's first match since last March and only his fifth since April 2014.

"I think winning the match after 11 months is the gift of the tournament for me," he said.
Del Potro, 27, added that if he kept working and stayed healthy, "maybe I can be dangerous again one day."

Del Potro, who was given a wild-card entry by the tournament director, punctuated last Tuesday's victory with a powerful ace exactly one hour into the match. His serve reached 130 mph and his whiplash forehand resembled the stroke that led him to a five-set upset of Roger Federer in the 2009 US Open men's singles final and an eventual top-five ranking.

After winning his first and only Grand Slam title as a 20-year-old, del Potro was talked about as the future of men's tennis. Less than eight months later, though, he had surgery on his right wrist, the first of four wrist surgeries over a five-year period that would alter his career.

The three subsequent procedures were on del Potro's left wrist, which affected his two-handed backhand. Against Kudla, del Potro was cautious with his backhand and resorted to mostly sliced one-handers. He tried a two-hander in the second set, but he was more interested in seeing how effective his serve and forehand would be.

"I think I was nervous before the match and I was excited to see how my forehand and serve were going to be on the court because I know how my backhand is," said del Potro, who had been training at home in Argentina and in Miami. "It was a little pressure for me to try not to miss easy forehands or not make double faults because I have to keep working and improving on my backhand to compete at this level. I think I'm in the middle of the process to solve the problem with my backhand."

In addition to gauging his play on the court, del Potro was eager to see how he would feel after the match.  Del Potro acknowledged that he was not as familiar with many players in the draw, joking that for most of the last two years he had been at home watching "The Simpsons" on television. "Maybe in a couple of weeks I will ask for a picture with them because they are the future, and I am getting older year by year," he said.

Having been on the comeback trail before, del Potro was not as concerned with his mental state heading into this tournament. He has had to make the climb back up the ATP rankings enough times to know what it takes, which is why he relied so much on his family and his support system this time around.

During his latest injury hiatus, del Potro split with his longtime coach, Franco Davin, who is now working with Grigor Dimitrov. He has not yet announced a new coach. "I have a nice team behind me and a great family and friends who support me and are behind me every day," said del Potro, who was in the top 10 at the time of his injury and is now ranked 1,041st. "They were watching my match on TV in Argentina and I know they are so proud of me. It's amazing for me to share this moment with them because they know how sad I was in the past."

There was a large contingent of del Potro fans in the stands surrounding the stadium court, and they were vocal throughout the match. The blue and white Argentine flag was proudly on display.

In fact, del Potro should feel at home in this tournament, having won it in 2011, when he was also returning from a wrist surgery.  "I'm looking at the Porsche again," del Potro said of the automobile that goes to the winner of the tournament. "I think this year it will be more difficult for me to get it, but I have my car at my place so it doesn't matter."

What does matter to del Potro is putting together more matches like the one he played Tuesday night. In fact, del Potro had reached the semifinals.


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