A maiden ATP masters win is a great achievement for any tennis player but Juan Martin del Potro’s victory over Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on the weekend, was a special moment for everyone in the tennis world.
In 2009, del Potro won his maiden Grand Slam at the US Open, also against Federer, and since then has battled nasty wrist injuries that have kept him out of the game for years at a time.
The first injury occurred in 2010 at the beginning of the season in Australia.
Del Potro played one match at the Kooyong Classic and won and then had to withdraw because of the injury.
He pressed on to the Australian Open despite the injury having not healed and made it to the fourth round but was forced to take a month off after the event and consequently had to withdraw from several tournaments.
The Argentinian opted for surgery on the wrist in May of that year which ruled him out of defending his US Open title and lead to major drop in his rankings.
Between 2011 and 2014 ‘Delpo’ was able to get his ranking back up to as high as four in the world despite dropping to as low as 485 at one point.
After making the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the final at Indian Wells and Shanghai and winning a bronze medal at the Olympics, everything looked back on track for the big hitter until he sustained a second injury to the opposite wrist.
Del Potro started 2014 by winning the Apia Sydney International title but was knocked out of the Australian Open in the second round and then received treatment on his left wrist.
He got to the Dubai Tennis Championships but was forced to retire against Somdev Devvarman in the first round and went for surgery on the wrist and was out for the rest of the year.
He made another comeback to the tour at the start of 2015 to defend his title in Sydney having not played for 11 months but he was still suffering pain in his left wrist.
In Sydney, the Argentine made it to the quarterfinals but lost to Mikhail Kukushkin in straight sets.
He then made his way down to Melbourne for the Australian Open and had to withdraw at the last minute due to the same wrist problem.
The only other time del Potro appeared at a tournament in 2015 was in the first round at the Miami Open before he went for his third round of surgery in June that year.
During this time, del Potro considered walking away from tennis.
His ranking dropped to as low as 1045 and he said he “got frustrated at home and I didn’t watch tennis on TV because it was sad for me.”
After almost 12 months without playing a single competitive tennis match, del Potro made his return to the ATP tour at Delray Beach where he went as far the semi-finals before being downed by American Sam Querrey.
Despite the loss, he said he felt a bigger victory by just being back on the court.
“I always try to win, that’s for sure, but this week I won more than a tournament. I’m so glad to play tennis again,” he said after his comeback tournament.
Del Potro continued to play and win matches and his ranking was slowly rising.
The 2016 Rio Olympics came around and he showed the rest of the tennis world that he was back in big way.
On his way to the gold medal match, the Tandil native beat the then world number one Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal but fell short against Andy Murray and returned home to Argentina with the silver medal.
Still only ranked at 145, he earned a wildcard to the US Open and made it to the quarterfinals where he lost to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.
Returning to the tournament and making it to the finals was a special milestone for the former champion.
“To be as close as I was to never playing again and now returning to re-live these things is something spectacular,” del Potro told media.
“Maybe I enjoy it a lot more now because I know what it cost me to be here. With every corner I see, every place where I am, I remember the things that I did in 2009; where I prepared, the place where I celebrated, also the people that made me feel so great.
“I am very happy.”
At the end of the 2016 season, del Potro was voted the 2016 Comeback Player of the Year by his peers, an award which he had won previously for his comeback in 2011, and his ranking had risen to 38.
Fast forward to today and the loveable giant is now ranked six in the world, only two spots down from his peak in 2010.
After winning Indian Wells last week, he is on an 11-match winning streak and he is the only person to beat Roger Federer this year.
“I couldn’t imagine this moment. I mean, everybody knows I was really close to quitting tennis before my third surgery on my left wrist,” the BNP Paribas Open champion said.
“I made a big effort to come back. I have everything what I want, and I want to keep improving my game to see what can I do.
“I had very bad moments a few years ago and I don’t want to think about that anymore. I am just enjoying my life and playing around the world. I am excited to see what is next.”
Now arguably the most in-form player on the ATP circuit alongside Federer, it would be no surprise if del Potro went on to win his second grand slam title this year.
What a fairy-tale that would be.