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"Climbing the Comeback Mountain with the Tower of Tandil."

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The Totally Coincidental Return of the Elf

Posted by gauloises1 on January 19, 2011

I’d like to just state right at the beginning that the fact that I have decided to return to blogging and the fact that a certain Juan Martin del Potro has returned to the courts are entirely unrelated. There is such a thing as coincidence, you know. This isn’t CSI; sometimes events when viewed together do not form a damning synergy. I don’t know how that blood got there. I’m not on trial here.

Anyway. Did you know that Juan Martin del Potro is back?

And he brought his giant arms.

Delpo, now ranked 236 in the world, played his first Slam match since the 2010 Australian Open yesterday and won it, beating Dudi Sela 76(13) 64 64. I will pause for applause and general jubilation because … he won a match. In a Slam.

Don’t get me wrong, if he’d lost I probably would be treating the fact that he played a match in a Slam as a triumph because that’s what it feels like. And there’s no reason to get ahead of ourselves. There were plenty of negatives in Delpo’s performance; he missed frequently to the tune of 52 unforced errors, he didn’t return well, and his second serve – never the strongest part of his game – was fairly woeful. Most worrying of all, he looked slow and sluggish; it doesn’t matter if he’s cracking that forehand seemingly as hard as ever if he can’t get into position to hit it.

You can’t overestimate the importance of match play in recapturing that elusive creature called ‘form’, and Delpo is nowhere near his pre-injury level – yet. But he’s not playing like someone ranked down in the 200s, either. Rusty and slipshod as he was throughout the match, he never backed off or stopped going for his shots – most crucially in the first set tiebreak, after squandering a break of serve and a mini-break advantage and going set point down. It was a cracking forehand into the corner that earned him the tiebreak and the set, and he didn’t look back.

All in all, I think as a Delpo fan – have I mentioned that? – I’m finding his attitude on the court more encouraging even than his play. He’s been gone for a year and he’s under an enormous spotlight; everyone’s questioning when and if he’ll get back to his old form, looking to him to pick up where he left off in 2009. He’s got every reason to be anxious, tentative and frustrated on the court, but that’s not what we saw from him yesterday. He simply got on with it in the unassuming fashion that characterises him. His head was in the game.

The same tenacity and disarming humility has been evident in his press conferences, which have revolved so far in 2011 around the same theme – the long road back to where he was.

Q. Can you describe this last year with your injury.

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: I had a very bad year. For three or four months nobody knows about my wrist. I think that’s a bad thing for my mind. But after the surgery, the doctor say between four and six months you will be playing again. I was very, very quiet. Because if I do my step by step very quiet, I will be playing again. That’s what is happen now.

I have a good start season. I beat Feliciano López last week and today I won another match. That’s what I need. I need time, I need matches, I need sets, I need hours into the court. Then in the future, I will be better.


Let’s be honest, Delpo isn’t the most fluid or articulate person in English. So when he’s saying all the right things, it means something.

He also talked about the importance of feeling that his fellow players supported him in his absence and are glad to see him back.

Q. How good does it feel to be back in a Grand Slam arena after so much frustration for you?

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I feel good. Is nice for me be here with these players, this tournament, and of course playing a Grand Slam.

Today I play good tennis again. But I’m really enjoying this week. I met with all the players, especially the top 10 players. They support me when I was very bad. So now I face to face with them and I say thank you.

Q. You talked about the support of the fellow top 10 players. How did they support you? Did they call you or send messages?

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Everything. They call me and they send an emails, everything. It’s important. They have all his schedule very close, very completed. Sometimes if you got his callings, is good because they are thinking about you and about yourself. So I just want to say thank you to all of them. For me it’s good playing against them again.

Q. Was someone calling you or writing you more than others, better friends you have on the circuit?

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: My better friends are in Tandil. I don’t know. With one matches is good, is enough to feel they support. I don’t care if Federer send me ten message and Rafa send me two. The important thing, it’s they send to me and they was thinking about me. So I just want to say thank you.

There really does seem to be an almost universal sense of happiness that he’s healthy and playing again. I know I’m biased, but something was missing without him. I’ve no doubt the honeymoon won’t last, what with the ephemeral nature of opinion and interest in tennis. But for now, doesn’t it feel great that he’s where he ought to be again?

Steve Tignor puts it best:

Every great player occupies a distinct space on the tennis landscape. It feels right to have del Potro here again. The landscape is complete, and the small circle of players who can contend for titles is closed. In the press room afterward, del Potro says he feels the same way, like he’s back home.

Yay Delpo. Marcos Baghdatis next.

(If you want a less rabidly biased report on the match, I recommend Pete Bodo’s Big Blue, or this from the New York Times‘ Christopher Clarey.)

10 Responses to “The Totally Coincidental Return of the Elf”

  1. Aleksa said

    Love. That is all.

  2. Bismarck said

    i just came to say hello, beautiful blogging stranger.
    every great blog occupies a distinct space on the blogosphere. it feels right to have newballs here again etc etc.

  3. Saoirse said

    Welcome back Gauloises, welcome back Delpo – you have both been missed in equal measure (well, almost).
    Looking forward for a second round of awesomeness from both of you!

  4. SA said

    And with one post I realized just how much I missed this place.

  5. sophienz said

    I loved how relaxed he seemed between points. Apparently he still doesn’t feel the need to move at more than a stroll between points 🙂

  6. Kelly said

    Have totally missed your blog and am thrilled you’ve returned! Welcome back!

  7. Celina said

    Fantastic article. And it’s true the tennis world in my opinion was just so incomplete without Delpo. And I’m just sooo happy that he’s back!

  8. Jess Stein said

    I’m happy with both returns whether or not they’re related 😉

  9. naughty T....urbane gentleman said

    oh my oh my.. how grand to have you back on the blogging scene.. it would not be right that Delpoopoo is back and you were not somewhere talking about it.

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