French Open 2019: Battling several injuries, Juan Martin Del Potro continues his fight after close contest against Yoshihito Nishioka
With a forehand as big as his heart, no matter where Del Potro finishes at the French Open this year, he is already a winner.
If there was any player who could be described as a glass cannon, it would be Juan Martin Del Potro. He took a phenomenal - and hard-fought win over Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka on Thursday, whom he had faced (and defeated) only three months ago on the hard courts of Delray Beach.
It is hard, too, to find a player as universally loved as Delpo. Whether you’re part of one of men’s tennis’ big camps - the 'FedFans', 'Nolefam' or 'Rafans', Del Potro is the one tennis player you can’t help but like.
Before the tournament, Del Potro wouldn’t be included in most tennis fans' predictions of players who would make it to Round 3. That is not to say he lacks skill - he was, of course, the semi-finalist last year, and the in-form Argentine - then the fifth seed, beat some big names before tumbling to eventual winner Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. It is Del Potro’s body that often does not seem to cooperate with his mind.
2019 has been good, and simultaneously patchy, for the man otherwise known as the Tower of Tandil. That isn’t to say he hasn’t occupied reams of newsprint and space constantly: videos all over social media will send you to glimpses of Del Potro’s humour, his kindness, his sporting nature - all of the good things about the sport the man embodies. After his match against Nishioka, you could add the match highlights as a marker of exactly that.
Nothing of Del Potro’s demeanour shows exactly how much he has struggled over his career, even during his successes. More dogged by injury than any other player on the circuit, the 2009 US Open winner has been troubled by his hip, his knee, and most of all, his wrists - an injury that essentially lost him a backhand just as powerful as his forehand.
By no means was Yoshihito Nishioka an inferior opponent. The Japanese ace, ranked 72 in the singles and perhaps miles below Del Potro’s ranking of 9, still pulled out some great tennis during the their Round 2 match, particularly with some accurately angled forehands, and cross-court shots that the Argentine, struggling and with his knee heavily taped up, was unable to chase down.
Having broken his kneecap in Shanghai last year and still rehabbing that injury, he called for the trainer as he dropped the first set. His knee was not the only injury the tall Argentine was nursing; he also reported pain in his hip, having lost his balance during the match.
This year, the 6 ft 6 inch tall Del Potro has played scant tournaments. Withdrawing from the Australian Open as he continued to nurse his knee, the 30-year-old had a quarter-final exit at Delray Beach, before withdrawing from Acapulco and Indian Wells - both titles he was defending. At the Madrid Masters, he suffered an early Round 1 loss to Laslo Djere.
He has not been at full fitness. He has struggled with his knee, his hip, and his perpetual trouble - his wrists. Still, Del Potro played a couple of quality matches on clay coming into the French Open, particularly his quarter-final in Italy against World No 1 Novak Djokovic. Then, having taken one set, Del Potro had looked fit, and there had been no sign of injury - at least not on court.
In his match against Nishioka on Thursday, however, Delpo, was taped up, limped. Yet, he looked in fighting form - but unfortunately for himself and his legion of fans, he was not completely injury free.
For those in business, perhaps there is no better place to look to than Del Potro, if one were to understand resource management. Often nursing one injury or the other, the Argentine still, somehow, manages to keep his place high up the rankings regardless. It is not without reason that Del Potro’s forehand is considered among the best in the men’s game. You would be hard-pressed to find one as clean and accurate, and Del Potro certainly put it to phenomenal employ in his match against Nishioka.
During his Round 1 match against Nicolas Jarry too Del Potro did not appear to be moving much. In contrast, Jarry ran all over the court, coming up to the net frequently.
Nishioka, too, was not just an expert at angling shots, but active, running, and held his nerve during tiebreaks.
But if it was a battle of the mind - as tennis truly can be, there are few as skilled as Del Potro. In the end, the Argentine capitalised to convert 9 break points, and despite his limited movement, used the forehand we all know and love to slowly, but surely, pick his opponent apart.
Will Del Potro play Round 3? Considering how severe his injuries looked, even if he does, it might be a difficult battle. But with Del Potro’s temperament - and his near-unparalleled fortitude, if anyone could do it, he could. The Argentine will now go head-to-head with Australia’s Jordan Thompson, who defeated Ivo Karlovic in four sets.
Del Potro ended Thursday’s match in characteristic Delpo fashion, in more way than one. First, he ended the proceedings of the match with a typically powerful forehand. Then, congratulating his opponent for a good contest, the Argentine ended the match for real with a deep bow, in a traditional show of respect to Nishioka.
With a forehand as well knows as his warm-heart, no matter where Del Potro finishes at the French Open this year, he is already a winner.
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