2 years, 3 wrist surgeries later, Del Potro back to big stage at Wimbledon | tennis | Hindustan Times
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2 years, 3 wrist surgeries later, Del Potro back to big stage at Wimbledon

Once deemed the “next big thing” in tennis, 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro grew so frustrated after needing three operations on his left wrist that he considered quitting the sport last year at age 27.

Wimbledon 2016 Updated: Jun 29, 2016 16:21 IST
Del Potro last played at Wimbledon in 2013, when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
Del Potro last played at Wimbledon in 2013, when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.(REUTERS)

Once deemed the “next big thing” in tennis, 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro grew so frustrated after needing three operations on his left wrist that he considered quitting the sport last year at age 27.

Too many setbacks.

Too many comebacks.

He stayed the course, though, and on Tuesday, ranked only 165th, del Potro played his first Grand Slam match in two-and-a-half years, moving into the second round at Wimbledon with a 6-1, 7-5, 6-0 victory over Stephane Robert, a Frenchman ranked 79th.

“I’m enjoying tennis again. I’m starting to talk about tennis and (not) about my wrist. That’s important,” del Potro said. “I would like to stay here on tour for (a few more) years. I think I’m close to get that goal.”

This is del Potro’s first appearance at the All England Club since losing to Novak Djokovic in the 2013 semifinals, a thrilling five-setter won by Djokovic before the Serb losing to Andy Murray.

In January 2014, the Argentine lost in the second round of the Australian Open, then two months later had wrist surgery that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Two other procedures cut short his 2015 schedule.

“I’m feeling better, week by week. I’m doing all my steps. ... I wake up and I can (plan) my practice and I do it,” del Potro said. “That’s important for my mind, as well, because I’m not thinking about treatments or injuries or doctors or nothing like that.”

“Today I am enjoying other things a lot more. One of the saddest things was not having my normal life, my routine.”

He is right-handed but uses his left wrist on two-handed backhands and it is clear that he is not quite fully comfortable hitting that shot.

The 6’6” (1.98-metre) tall Del Potro’s best, most imposing strokes have always been his big, flat forehand and his serve, and that is very much the case nowadays.

Against Robert, del Potro managed to produce 20 outright winners off the forehand wing -- and zero with his backhand.

“I’m working hard mentally, too,” said del Potro, who beat Roger Federer in the US Open final seven years ago, “because I have to deal with some pains and some frustrations when I want to hit a good backhand, and I cannot do it.”

Wrist injuries are the nightmare tennis players fear more than any other, with Rafael Nadal the latest to fall victim.

Even when physically repaired, the psychological scars can take longer to heal, according to Del Potro.

“This year will be more like a comeback on to tour, to feel the pressure of tennis. I hope to be ready for being an aggressive player next season.

“I just want to play free.”

Del Potro, a gentle giant off the court, faces a much sterner test in the second round against fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, who has won the Australian Open and French Open once apiece.

They have met five times previously and del Potro leads the series 3-2 but the most recent encounter was back in 2012. There was one head-to-head match at Wimbledon, in 2008, which Wawrinka won in straight sets.

“For me, it’s going to be interesting to play against him. It’s been many years,” said Wawrinka, who advanced Tuesday by beating 18-year-old American Taylor Fritz 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

“For sure, I think we (are) all happy that he’s back on the tour, hopefully without any injury (so) he can play for long now,” Wawrinka said about del Potro. “He’s always been a great champion, a great player to watch.”