This time last year, Juan Martin del Potro was still rehabbing, working to get back into relevance on the ATP world tour. Del Potro had been ailed by injuries since 2014, having problems with his wrist that warranted multiple surgeries. He finally returned to the tour this past April and hasn’t looked back since. In an interview, del Potro revealed that his injuries were very close to ending his career, and it was easy to see how happy he was to be back playing the game he loved.
On February 8th, 2016 del Potro was ranked 1045 in the world. His season truly started from the bottom, but he was motivated to get back to where he once was. At Wimbledon, del Potro received a wildcard into the tournament. His season truly began when he defeated the five seed, Stan Wawrinka, in the second round of the tournament. That win sent a message that del Potro was back and ready to play at a high level. However, he fell in the next round to Lucas Pouille in a competitive four-set match.
Next came the Olympics in Rio, where del Potro was a representative for his country, Argentina. Things looked bleak for him when he drew Novak Djokovic, the one seed, in the first round. In that match, del Potro sent another message, defeating Djokovic 7-6 7-6. Del Potro went on, all the way to the finals, where he fell to Andy Murray in a thrilling match. After that, the tour knew that del Potro was back and dangerous. In the U.S. open del Potro battled his way to the quarterfinals, where this time he fell to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. He finished the season ranked 38th, but it wasn’t the end for him. He had also performed well in Davis Cup and led Argentina to the finals, which took place this past week.
The stage was set beautifully for del Potro to cap off his wondrous comeback season. A Davis Cup win would be the perfect way to ride off into the sunset. Things didn’t start so smoothly, del Potro found himself playing with his team down 2-1 (Davis Cup matches are best three out of five) against world number six Marin Cilic. Not only that but del Potro went down two sets to love in the match. Del Potro had never before come back from being down two sets to love, and at this point in the match, he had a broken finger. In reality, this match perfectly symbolized del Potro’s comeback into the sport, he was down in a hole that seemed impossible to dig out of, but he did. Del Potro battled through a broken finger and two sets to love hole to win his match 6-7 2-6 7-5 6-4 6-3, and Argentina went on to win the Davis Cup.
Del Potro’s season was nothing short of spectacular, and he was honored for it with the ATP Comeback Player of the Year award. It wasn’t just that he played well this year, what was most inspiring was the genuine joy that del Potro displayed throughout, and his indomitable will that allowed him to do the impossible. Whether it was his tears of joy after hearing the crowd cheering so loud for him at the U.S. Open when he was down, or his genuine shock after defeating Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Olympics, or battling his way through a broken finger and a two sets to love hole. Watching del Potro’s season was a tear jerking, awe-inspiring experience and to me is certainly the feel-good story in sports this year.