In an era where the ‘big three’ of men’s singles tennis are so dominant, spare a thought for anyone else trying to get a look in. It’s very rare that Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal don’t win one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments. If you’re looking at the latest odds on tennis tournament Australian Open, you’re likely to see all three names among the favourites. But another name you can expect to see amidst the outsiders is Argentine Juan Martín del Potro, despite being ranked 122nd in the ATP world rankings.
A career plagued by injuries poses the question of ‘what if?’ for Delpo, as he’s affectionately known. What if he wasn’t playing in the big three era? And what if injuries hadn’t taken their toll? The Argentine has only one Grand Slam title – the US Open in 2009 – and a further runner-up finish in the same competition as recently as 2018 to his name. He has four semi-final finishes with an additional seven quarter-finals exits across all four Grand Slams, but several notable absences from the major tournaments. Despite missing out last year in Melbourne due to recurring injuries suffered the season before, his best finish at the Australian Open has been the quarter-finals in both 2009 and 2012, and on both occasions Delpo lost to Federer in straight sets.
Delpo was as high as third in the ATP standings just last year. Despite losing in the third round of the Australian Open, he went on to win back-to-back tour events and in winning at Indian Wells, he secured his first ATP Tour Masters 1000 event. Being forced to retire at the Italian Open meant there were doubts over him entering the French Open, but he came back and defied the critics, reaching the semi-final where he lost to the King of Clay Rafael Nadal. The two also met in the Wimbledon quarter-finals where the outcome was the same. After withdrawing from the Canadian Open, del Potro contested the US Open final against Djokovic, and he was later forced to retire from his final tournament of the year, the Shanghai Masters.
This year has seen Delpo unable to participate in many tournaments with injuries from the previous season lingering – and fresh ones occurring. Fans have been restricted to seeing photos of his rehabilitation and various holidays on his social media accounts. After withdrawing from the Australian and Mexican Opens and the Indian Wells Masters, the Argentine played a handful of events, more specifically 12 matches, before suffering a career-threatening knee injury at Queen’s in the warm-up to Wimbledon. He was forced to prolong his time on the side-lines, pulling out of two tournaments in October, ruling himself out an exhibition match against Federer and the rest of the season.
But it’s not all bad news, as del Potro announced he will use his protected ranking and participate in the 2020 Australian Open. Since slipping down the standings due to injury, he didn’t make the cut for the first major of the season, however, he will be able to enter under his protected status. His comeback would be just in time for the year of the Olympics. Representing his country, del Potro previously won a silver medal at Rio 2016 and bronze at London 2012. There’s no doubt that Tokyo 2020 is among his targets for next season, but first the major at Melbourne.
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