Commentary / World

Silver medalist Del Potro lives up to his name

by Cesar Chelala

In English, the Spanish word “potro” can be translated as stallion. And by reaching the final tennis match in the Rio Olympic Games, Juan Martin Del Potro proved once more that he is a stallion, with enormous energy and strength to confront his adversaries. At the Olympic Games he defeated first Novak Djokovik (the world’s No. 1 player) and then Rafael Nadal to reach the final match with Andy Murray.

Although Del Potro lost, he proved to be a worthy opponent. As The New York Times stated, “Andy Murray put a brighter shine on his finest tennis season by winning his second straight Olympic gold medal in singles on Sunday night, but surely Juan Martin Del Potro deserves something more precious than silver.”

His achievement is significant since he was unable to play for years, during which he went through four rounds of surgery for his wrist. He entered the Rio Olympic Games ranked No. 141 in the world. After defeating Joao Sousa, Taro Daniel and Roberto Bautista Agut, Del Potro played against Nadal. During that match, there was a marked contrast between the self-assured stand of the Spaniard and the almost worrisome look in Del Potro’s face.

Del Potro is one of the most admired tennis players and a fan to all Argentines. Because of the rivalry in sports between Brazil and Argentina, Brazilian fans were wildly in favor of Nadal. Together with Del Potro’s popularity, this may explain the almost soccer atmosphere during the match, where rowdy Argentine and Brazilian fans obliged the chair umpire to call them to attention several times.

The Brazilians’ constant heckling obliged the chair umpire to state repeatedly in exasperation, “Ladies and gentlemen. This is a tennis event. Please be fair and respect both players.” The Brazilians answered the umpire’s request with a chorus of boos.

Del Potro is an offensive baseliner, and his forehand is one of his main strengths, capable of generating speeds of over 160 kph. In addition, he also has a powerful double — handed backhand. He is a superstitious player, and always uses an outdated Wilson Hyper Pro Staff 6.1 racquet, which has gone through several paint jobs.

Del Potro started playing tennis when he was 7. “When I was young, I only knew about soccer. I was waiting for a soccer practice. It was an hour. So boring. A person gave a racquet to me. I hit the wall. And maybe after six months I decide I want to stay with tennis.”

Since then, he has had a successful career. In 2008, he achieved a top 10 ranking by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). In 2009, he was seeded sixth at the U.S. Open. He defeated Australian Open Champion Nadal in the semifinals and reached his first Grand Slam final.

He defeated five-times defending champion Roger Federer in five sets and became the first Argentine male to win the title since Guillermo Vilas in 1977. “Since I was young I dream with this and want to take the trophy with me,” he said. In January 2010, he reached the No. 4 world ranking, after which he had to withdraw from most tournaments due a wrist injury. After a long absence, he returned to the ATP World Tour in February 2016.

Del Potro came to the final with a 2-5 record against Murray, who is coming off a Wimbledon title and is enjoying one of the best winning streaks (17 matches) of his career. In addition, Murray was in better physical shape than Del Potro before their final match, since it took him much less effort and time to win his semifinal match.

It was evident after the first set that Del Potro, despite the enormous energy coming from his enthusiastic fans, was already extremely tired and would probably be unable to hold his own against a much fresher Murray. And although he made a tremendous physical effort, he had to concede the match to Murray. Murray became the champion and proved again that he is a remarkable player, the first to win two tennis gold medals. Del Potro honored his name, and both players honored the game.

Cesar Chelala, a New York-based physician, is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America and two national journalism awards from Argentina. He frequently writes on humanitarian issues.