Del Potro, the setbacks

Oct 29, 2015, 12:54:18 PM

This could be the story of a singer with a faint voice. In reality, it's the story of a right-handed tennis player who cannot play because of acute pain in his left hand...

This could be the story of an artist whose art was stolen. A painter with broken hands, a singer with a faint voice, a sculptor who's gone blind. But it’s actually the story of a right-handed tennis player who cannot play because of a pain in his left hand. It’s the story of the battle between Juan Martin Del Potro and cruelty of s(p)ort.


When you look to the victim of the cruelty of fate, you can’t help but wonder about the vulnerability of happiness. What's the meaning of all this? What’s essential? What are the things without which it’s actually impossible to live? Love? Work? Sport? Rest? Light? Hope? Just a few years ago, Juan Martin Del Potro would certainly have answered: "Boca Juniors, Fernet, meat and tennis racquets." These thoughts run through our minds occasionally, enter through the eyes and emerge elsewhere, because "real life" rarely confronts us with the cruel situation of an unbridgeable deficiency. Life, real life, always offers an alternative, other resources, a compensation. After all, the Muscovites have artificial solar lights in their kitchens, Finns eat tomatoes as a starter at Christmas, Chinese can now find mozzarella in their supermarkets. But sometimes, cruelty falls on you. Even in "real life."


Cruelty, this sadist


We often imagine it like a meteorite launched at full speed for several million miles. Luckily, it often falls on the other side of the planet. Amid the African deserts, Chinese fields or Russian steppes. Into the void. In open countryside, for example, between two cows ignorant of the greatness of the universe. It may also fall into a peaceful lake and come tickle two gloomy fishes or even fall in the garden of the grumpy neighbour and take a tragicomic form. But sometimes it can fall on you. It can fall anywhere, actually. But cruelty doesn't always take the form of a diabolical destructive meteorite. Cruelty is much more subtle. It is crueller, in fact, because it knows how to hide in you. Cruelty can take the form of an incurable eye disease in the eye of a painter with precarious income. Cruelty can disguise itself as a cardiac hypertrophy in a young sportsman who has already dropped out of college. Cruelty, finally, can hide in the hand of a tennis player. And to go further, it can even hide in the hand that is – or should be - useless. The left hand of a right-handed tennis player. This is what happened to Juan Martin Del Potro.



Giant with fragile hands


In 2009, at 20 years old, the Argentine won the US Open by defeating Roger Federer in final and arrived without introduction as a new dominant force in his sport. From his six ft. six, Del Potro moved on the court Arthur Ashe with the vivacity of an Argentine striker and hit his forehand like a beef. The service of a giant, the punch of a baseline player and the mobility of a clay-court player. A new trick: a 15-stone hope. Professional at 17, Del Potro was 4th in the world at 20 and was already serving at 147 mph. And then cruelty moved in with him, in his right hand - his work tool - to damage what fifteen years of work in Tandil then Buenos Aires had eventually turned into a global masterpiece and a national pride for Argentina. In 2010, Del Potro underwent a first surgery in his right wrist and only played three tournaments.  But he came back. In 2011, the joyful lad with a serious look started the year as world 484th and climbed up to 11th place. He then stored the costume of smashing hope of world tennis and endorsed the one of man who came back from the darkness. He thought to have overcome the worse to come back even stronger. But cruelty has unsuspected resources: Del Potro relapsed. This time, cruelty didn't moved into the right hand of Del Potro, right-handed player with a devastating forehand. It chose the left hand. The other hand. The one that opens the bottles of water. The one that quietly slips the ball in the pocket before serving. The one that mechanically throw that same ball for the racquet to hit. The hand that in theory is useless next to that talent that has already won 18 tournaments and 314 victories on the tour.



« I don’t want to hate this sport »


In 2014, the Argentinian player started the season in the 5th place and finished it 137th. In a year and a half, Del Potro's left wrist underwent three surgeries. After each attempt, his career looked more and more like a blazing fire that no longer wanted to light up. But that still tried with all its might. Today, Delpo hasn't been playing since March. "Since my last tournament in Miami until today, I went through complicated weeks and months. Sad days, dark, with very little light on the way... But I will not surrender." Last June, Juan Martin Del Potro resurfaced. Filmed at his home on the sofa, the Argentine discussed his last months with a lump in throat, a feverish voice, and gloomy eyes. On the brink of breaking down, he explained the constraints imposed by what he called "my problem". Because the anxiety caused by the tendinitis in his left hand eventually reached all parts of his giant body. Especially the head. "I don't want to fight against tennis. I don't want to hate the sport. I'll get back in the saddle as a person, first, before thinking about the tennis player. It's the first time that I'm not working on my tennis or on my fitness. Before, I continued to train without using my left hand. But in Miami, I decided not to go on a tennis court with such pain in the left wrist. And so I started a mental and psychological fight." Now at the 578th place in the world, Delpo keeps fighting everyday against the resistance of his own tendons. "A long process that looks like a painstaking work," in his own words. A buried pain, subtle, invisible, personal. But the Argentinian player still believes and makes the whole world want to believe in him. Because his fight goes beyond sport and injury. His fight has become that of a man who, on the way to achieving his life's work, met a cruel meteorite. A setback. Of the worst kind.


By Markus Kaufmann