November 28, 2016
Even with a broken finger, Juan Martin Del Potro inspired Argentina to their first Davis Cup triumph in a dramatic comeback against Croatia in Zagreb.
Not for the first time in his career, Del Potro emerged from near-oblivion to command the stage when we had almost written off his chances.
And no one can say that one of the world’s most popular players didn’t deserve his glittering end to the year. He had broken a finger in his left hand during the deciding set of an epic fight-back against Marin Cilic.
But what was a broken finger to a man who, not long ago, had decided that he would almost certainly never be able to play professional tennis again due to far worse problems?
Of his latest injury, Delpo revealed: ‘It happened when I tried to catch a ball in the fifth set.’ Just as well he is right-handed, though the injury must have been unsettling.
The South American superstar added: ‘This was an emotionally exhausting match and one of the biggest wins of my career. Thanks to all those who prevented me from retiring. I was very close to never playing again and well, here I am.’
This has been one of the great fairy stories of tennis. Del Potro, you will recall, had beaten Andy Murray in a five-set classic in the Brit’s own back yard, to send the defending champions crashing out of the competition.
Although the gentle giant confessed that would never erase the heartbreak of his Olympic final defeat to the Scot in Rio earlier this year, it was a significant display of sporting courage.
Delpo therefore had plenty of never-say-die self-belief to draw upon when it seemed he had been overpowered by the latest home favourite, Cilic in Croatia.
Poor Marin had put his country on the verge of victory when he went two sets ahead in the pivotal singles showdown. Croatia were already 2-1 up overall – and could have been forgiven for thinking ahead to their own victory celebrations.
But Del Potro battled back to take that rubber 6-7, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 in an incredible demonstration of power, accuracy, fitness and willpower.
With the final all square, Federico Delbonis stepped up to defeat Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 as the giant Croat failed to handle the immense pressure in front of his own crowd.
And so Del Potro’s remarkable year was complete, as he sent the whole of Argentina into sporting ecstasy.
Here was a man, you will recall, who had to take nearly two years out of the game and was forced to undergo three wrist operations in a desperate attempt to keep his tennis dreams alive.
Even he thought it was all over. But 2016 was to tell a different story, and the tennis world loved having one of its favourite players back on the sport’s big stages once more.
In truth, tennis needs Delpo every bit as much as Delpo needs tennis. His humility and charm, his booming forehand and spectacular stroke-play have thrilled us again.
With the wonderful Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal struggling to hit former heights for now, it is a sheer delight to see Juan Martin Del Potro achieve one of the great feats in our sport.
Congratulations Delpo! Everyone loves you!