The Burning Heart of Juan Martin Del Potro

Juan Martin Del Potro is known for winning the 2009 US Open. He’s also known for dealing with severe wrist injuries that have derailed his career. The Argentinian star, made one comeback from such an injury back in 2010. Now he’s making another return to the tour after suffering a similar injury last year. The question is – can he do it again?

Del Potro, who had not played since Dubai last year, made his season debut this week at the Miami Open. The result was a 6-4, 7-6 loss to Canada’s No. 2 Vasek Pospisil. While Del Potro later said he was just happy to be back on court and took only positives away from the match, something he said late in his press conference raised more than a few eyebrows.

“I think it’s the most important be patient and stay calm, and also try to be positive. I got depressive for a while in the past. I have been talking with (Janko) Tipsarevic, as well, at the locker rooms. He knows a lot about the injuries, about comebacks, and doesn’t make it. But in the end, I want to play tennis. If I have to learn a different backhand to keep playing, I will do it.”

Though Del Potro’s determination to do anything, even learn an one-handed backhand, to stay in the game is admirable, such a declaration sounded to a few as being somewhat desperate. While he certainly could, in time, build his way back to being inside the top 10 or even higher, what’s to say that once he got there that he wouldn’t suffer the same injury, or a different one, that would force him back into rehab and have to start yet another comeback all over again? If Del Potro’s body is, in fact, telling him to stop, is it worth him even trying to play the sport, even if by any means necessary?

Plenty of other players, on both the men’s and women’s tours, have dealt with injury setbacks and with their talent and time built successful comebacks. Yet Del Potro’s efforts seem to garner much more interest and, even more important, hope, among tennis fans. Part of that hope was built upon the multiple videos and pictures Del Potro and his team posted on social media of the Argentine training and working with his way back into full health during his latest layoff.

One particular series of him running and training on the beach included 80’s band Survivor and their song “Burning Heart” that was included in the “Rocky IV” movie. A fitting soundtrack as, like the Hollywood movie series, the protagonist, a former champion, must battle some near-career ending setback to get back in the ring, or Del Potro’s case, the court.

Inspirational videos certainly can fuel belief. Yet the more potent feeling surrounded Del Potro’s latest comeback is a sense “of what might be” if Del Potro could remain injury free.

When he beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer en route to winning the ’09 US Open, many thought Del Potro could be No. 1 and break up the “big four” and their grip over the ATP. It’s that belief in Del Potro’s talent, and that he just might still achieve it if he can stay healthy, that have many hoping this latest comeback is that last one he has to endure. Yet, if Del Potro can’t pull that off, then the sentiment will switch to “what might have been.”

Nothing is certain, especially in men’s pro tennis. Del Potro, now age 26, certainly has the ability and talent to return to the top. But he’ll once again have to start at the bottom and fight his way back into the elite tier he was a part of only two years ago. If he can do it, then it could well be a very happy and lasting return for the man they call the “Tower of Tandil”.

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