On Sunday, Juan Martin Del Potro retained his Stockholm Open crown by dismantling Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets. The Argentine won his 20th ATP tour title in Sweden and has managed to fight his way up to 19th in the men’s rankings. The real question is, how close is ‘DelPo’ from his best?
In my opinion, very close. The Argentinian Number One has been improving slowly over the last 18 months, with some great results along the way, which include: an Olympic silver medal, a Davis Cup victory, and wins over Murray, Federer and Djokovic. And yet his performance against Dimitrov last weekend might be the best of the lot.
To beat a top-10 player in the manner that he did was a real sign that DelPo may well be back to his best; a frightening best at that. It was a complete performance, in which the 6ft 6in player dominated the Bulgarian in every aspect, with some of the stats showing this with great clarity. 70% of first serves in and winning 63% of points on his second serve meant that he was never under threat on his own delivery. Moreover, winning 42% of points on the Dimitrov serve meant that the Argentine was always in with a chance of a break. Watching the former US Open Champion on Sunday felt like a flashback to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows back in 2009, when he showed the world exactly what he can do.
When the Argentinian burst onto the scene eight years ago, he was heralded as the next big thing in the men’s game, but it has never quite worked out for him ever since. A handful of Grand Slam quarterfinals, a couple of semi-finals, two Olympic medals and a Davis Cup win would be a series of excellent achievements for most players, but for Del Potro his potential promised so much more.
Despite not reaching what he is truly capable of in the past eight years, there is still reason to believe that he will win more major titles. However, if he wants to reach the pinnacle of the sport again, Del Potro must stay injury free. To say that DelPo has been unlucky with injuries is putting it very mildly. Three wrist surgeries since his stellar 2009 season have meant that every time he looked like returning to his best, his dreams were shattered, to the point where he considered giving up the sport all together.
It is these surgeries that have not only caused long breaks in the Argentinian’s career, but have also significantly damaged his confidence, especially in his more affected left wrist. The
backhand side of DelPo has suffered the most because of this, due to the fact that he has struggled to get enough strength and flexibility in his left wrist to hit through his groundstroke with power, causing him to revert to a defensive slice far too often.
As we all know, you cannot afford to have any weaknesses at the top of this game, and staying injury free will mean Juan Martin is not only able to compete in tournaments but also turn his backhand from a weakness into a solid part of the explosive arsenal he so possesses.
However, it is not as though being injury free will suddenly send the gentle giant to the top of the rankings; there are other ways in which his game needs to improve. Something that I have always thought Del Potro could improve on is his footwork and movement around the court. The big Argentine will never glide around the court like Federer, or be as flexible on the stretch as Djokovic; that’s not his style, but he could definitely move more effectively.
Whether it be a slice approach shot on the backhand or a wild slap of the forehand from way behind the baseline, below-par footwork and movement leaves Del Potro at a disadvantage in points, as
he is forced to select the ‘wrong’ shot on multiple occasions.
DelPo is one of the best players in the world at hitting forehands with huge amounts of power from way off the court, but even the best in the world cannot do it every time.
So can the 29-year-old win another Grand Slam? With the same old crop picking up slams again and again, it will inevitably be a major challenge. But then, anything is possible.